A MINISTER has welcomed a call by Anglican clergy urging Church of England schools to stop selecting pupils based on their faith.

Stephen Lingwood, minister at Bank Street Unitarian Chapel, heads up The Bolton Fair School Admissions which is calling for all state-funded schools in the town to be open to all children regardless of their religion or belief.

A number of schools in Bolton have admission policies which admit children on the grounds of their faith.

A group of Anglican clergy and laypeople have issued an open letter urging Church of England schools to stop selecting pupils based on their faith.

They claim the system is open to abuse and many oversubscribed schools reject non-churchgoing families even though they may live nearby.

But a spokesman for the church claimed the arguments set out in the letter were "flawed and inaccurate".

The letter, which was published in a national newspaper refers to a 2011 survey commissioned by the Sutton Trust which found six percent of parents admitted they had attended church services purely so their child could go to a local church school. The figure rose to 10 per cent of upper middle class parents.

The signatories stated: "On a superficial level this is in the church's interest, as attendance figures in many parishes are inflated and the standard of our schools boosted by the admittance of children from more affluent families.

"Ultimately however the universality of the church is being turned to the advantage of those who are already advantaged. We believe this issue presents a slow-burning crisis.

"We urge the church to review and then amend its national guidance on pupil admissions, so that schools are guided towards having open admission arrangements."

Mr Lingwood said: "I thoroughly welcome and applaud this statement.

"Bolton Fair School Admissions, of which I am chair, believes that discrimination in admissions is wrong.

"Not only is it simply unfair that schools paid for by all citizens are available only to some, but it also divides our society along religious, ethnic and class lines.

"Not only that, but faith-based schools, which were often set up to care for the poorest, now are often failing in this duty.

"Strict religious admissions codes mean that looked after children, children from single parent families, or children with parents looking after an elderly relative are unlikely to be accepted as they can't go to church every Sunday.

"We believe a truly moral and faith-based school would seek to serve its local community, first and foremost. I join with these Church of England leaders in urging schools to return to this."

A Church spokesman said: "The interpretation of the data cited is mistaken and the arguments doctrinaire."

Rev Nigel Genders, the Church's chief education officer, said the Church's secondary schools have an average of 10 per cent selection by religious criteria and some have more pupils on free school meals than the national average.

He said: "Anyone visiting our schools across the country will see a range of pupils from all faiths and none, and from all backgrounds.

"We run Christian schools for everyone, providing an inclusive and effective education, we are not — as the article seems to imply — running schools for middle.”

What do you think? Email letters@theboltonnews.co.uk