The Government has advised state-funded faith schools to “vary admissions arrangements” because families have not been able to attend places of worship to “demonstrate membership or practice of a faith”.
The non-statutory guidance tells admission authorities to “make changes… to account for the period where access to places of worship and/or to communal worship has been restricted as a result of the coronavirus outbreak”.
Faith schools can use faith-based criteria if the school is oversubscribed, and this may require parents to demonstrate membership or practice of the faith through regular attendance at a place of worship over a specified period.
Many places of worship have been closed, especially for communal worship, and some families may have been unable to attend upon their reopening for reasons such as protecting shielding relatives, meaning that observant families may be disadvantaged for the September 2021 intake.
“As a result, some admission authorities may need to seek a variation to their admission arrangements to ensure parents are clear on what they need to do to meet the relevant criteria,” the guidance document states.
In normal circumstances, once admission arrangements are determined for a particular school year, they can only be revised “in view of a major change in circumstances”.
Requests to change admission criteria for maintained schools will be heard by the Schools Adjudicator, while changes for academies will be considered by the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC).
“They will consider each application for an admissions variation on its merits,” the government said. “The outbreak is a major event so it is likely that they would consider this as justification for necessary changes.”