Does education secretary Nicky Morgan have it in for humanism? It certainly appears that way from some recent policy announcements. First there was the update to school curricula in 2015. Under the revised curriculum, pupils taking Religious Education for GCSE will be required to study two faiths in depth, from a list of seven. This does not include humanism or other non-religious world views.

Then, in January, changes to the schools admissions code were announced. Under the new plan, no one outside the local area can complain about a school’s admissions policy. “We are ensuring only local parents and councils can object to admission arrangements, which will also put a stop to vexatious complaints against faith schools by secularist campaign groups,” said Morgan.

Organisations such as the British Humanist Association have been at the forefront of fighting unfair admissions criteria at faith schools. Last year, the BHA published An Unholy Mess, a highly critical report which alleged that many faith schools are illegally denying places to children. The report details the BHA and the Fair Admissions Campaign – its collaborator on the report – lodged objections to the admission arrangements of nearly 50 religious schools.

Under current rules, these kinds of complaints are permitted from organisations and individuals outside the local area. If the changes are implemented, only local parents and councils will be able to raise concerns. The Chief Schools Adjudicator, Dr Elizabeth Passmore has said that investigating multiple objections from pressure groups was taking too much time and was a waste of public money. The government plans to carry out a public consultation on the proposal, which will launch in the next few weeks.

Faith schools are legally allowed to give priority to children who come from particular religious backgrounds if they are oversubscribed. But there is some evidence that many schools routinely misuse this power to discriminate against ethnic minorities and pupils from working-class backgrounds. The BHA says that most of its complaints about individual schools are prompted by parents. Concerns have been raised that banning such “vexatious” complaints would allow schools to break the rules with impunity.

“A near universal failure to adhere to the law in a particular area has been identified,” said BHA chief executive Andrew Copson. “Instead of moving to enforce the law, the government has responded by planning to make it harder to identify future violations of it. This is an affront to both democracy and the rule of law.”

A version of this article appears in the Witness section of the Spring 2016 issue of the New Humanist. Subscribe today.