The Brownies – guardians of fair school admissions policy?

A couple of weeks ago, in common with all parents of Brownies in the “Essex West” region, we were sent an e-mail on behalf of Girlguiding UK by Dr Rosemary Spencer the Chief Commissioner of Girlguiding Anglia. To our surprise it was about a school’s admissions policy in a neighbouring town. The clear message of the mail was captured in two paragraphs:

Earlier this year we became aware that the Cooper’s Company & Coborn School, in Upminster, had listed in their admission requirements that a letter from Brownies confirming that a girl had regularly attended church parade for a period of two years, would satisfy the admission criteria.

We wish to inform you that since becoming aware of this situation we have reminded all our Leaders of our Equality and Diversity policy, and that we are not an exclusively Christian organisation but a multi-faith organisation which encourages young members to explore their own spirituality within their family and community. Attendance at any act of worship must always be voluntary and be seen as part of the spiritual development of the individual member. It is not a compulsory part of the Brownie programme and Leaders should not keep records on an individual’s church attendance.

I am fully supportive of this stance but was also intrigued to see why Cooper’s admissions policy would include this in the first place. On reviewing their policy for 2013 entry I was even more surprised because, given recent controversy in Brentwood, I am amazed that it would pass the assessment of the Schools Adjudicator. The link to the policy is attached and if anyone knows of a more complex example than this I would be grateful to receive it:

I noted in reviewing it that our own children would actually qualify for admission under criterion 6 because Kathryn is a former pupil. This follows criteria for looked after children, SEN provision, defined association with a religious tradition, children of staff and siblings of current and past pupils. However, the school advises that only “around half of the available places will have been offered by this stage”.

Criterion 7 then presents us with a fiendishly complicated breakdown by percentage, location and distance to school for allocating remaining places up to a total of 170 whereupon criterion 8 applies for those with proven sport (10 places) or musical (9 places) prowess.

What is particularly interesting is that the school is reported widely as being heavily oversubscribed, Wikipedia says there are “approximately 5 applicants for each of the places”.

So two things occur to me, how are Cooper’s allowed such a complicated admissions policy and how few must be applying on religious grounds? Both touch on the situation in Brentwood.

Local residents will remember the furore when Becket Keys free school changed their admissions policy for those applying for entry in 2013 in the summer. Having tried to incorporate feeder schools and a percentage uptake system, they decided to make the policy far simpler and concentrate on church attendance and distance from the school. This followed a complaint by the local Headteachers Association to the Schools Adjudicator about the 2012 policy.

We covered the outcome in “Becket Keys admissions policy change angers supporters”, , while I welcome the far clearer new admissions policy, having read the Cooper’s version I think Becket Keys may have been hard done by.

The second question fascinates me as I am told so often about people attending church specifically to secure a place at a school. The letter from the Brownies seems to indicate that this is maybe not as prevalent as I was given to believe. Cooper’s primary criterion is given over to admission on religious grounds and yet they are happy to include any non-religious eleven year old who attends church parade once a quarter.

All the applications they receive, 5 for every place don’t forget, that meet the religious criteria are given a place. But the admissions policy admits that this will only account for “around half” of available places at most. So to put that in perspective, for 950 applicants, less than 90 apply on those grounds. And, as the Brownies have demonstrated, a proportion will not even be regular church goers.

As reported in our post “why the Brentwood Gazette article on the “Russell Education Trust” is important” , we reported that Richard Elms of Becket Keys backers the Russell Education Trust (RET) stated in a meeting that I attended that he thought the free school would never have 50% of applicants on their faith criteria. This evidence seems to back that judgement.

It does make me wonder where the demand for schools favouring church goers is supposed to have come from if such a small percentage of families in a town apply on those grounds. Is it about practising faith in school time or is it about a perception of who is most likely to be attracted to such schools?

As Debbie reported in “how inclusive are Brentwood’s schools?” , the make-up of students at Church Primary schools in comparison to other state provision does not seem to indicate that a cross-section of society is attracted to them. Is this a not so subtle attempt to be selective?

Either way, I am pleased that Girlguiding UK is promoting inclusivity and that they have acted where perhaps the Schools Adjudicator should have, although I note that the policy itself could still be interpreted to include those attending church on that basis alone. Perhaps it also questions the need to find a faith to “get in” to a school of your choice if you live in its locality?

Stephen Mayo


  1. All who read/write this blog may be interested in this meeting:
    Thurs 3 Oct 7.30pm

    Faith Schools and Fair Admissions

    Meeting organised by Humanists of Havering ALL WELCOME

    Ardleigh House, 42 Ardleigh Green Road, RM11 2LG.


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