Faith schools are creating more and more boundaries between pupils

Twelve years ago, almost to the day, I launched the report on behalf of the Community Cohesion Review Team, which I had chaired. This had considered the causes of the race riots in the summer of that year, and I coined the phrase "parallel lives" to describe the way in which different communities had become segregated and lived in fear and ignorance of each other. Communities were divided in housing, schooling, workplaces and culture, and had little contact with each other. The team was particularly anxious to bring communities together, and made 73 recommendations to that end. These included urging all schools to "consider ways in which they might ensure that their intake is representative of the range of cultures and ethnicity in their local communities".

Despite great work in some schools over the years, pupil segregation has been getting worse. A national study in 2004 confirmed that sufficient progress had not been made, and this has been confirmed by my own local studies. But now, 12 years on, the Fair Admissions Campaign's research shows an even more unfortunate picture – segregation by faith and social class has been added to that of ethnicity. And the worst culprits seem to be the very institutions that claim to bring us together – religious schools. Furthermore, the situation is one of continual decline as more and more faith schools, with free and independent admission policies, are established to balkanise children's education. Rather than learning about each other, schools are creating more and more boundaries, which tell pupils that they have such inherent differences that it is not possible to share the same classroom.

Under the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the Church of England has begun to recognise the problem, though his interview with Ruth Gledhill of the Times last month, in which he claimed that Anglican schools were moving away from selection on the basis of faith, was immediately contradicted by his own press office. And the archbishop will have to fight the protective grip of many individual schools and admissions authorities that are proud of their school ethos and performance, even if those are built on division and exclusion. Justin Welby is, of course, almost alone among religious leaders in his concern, and the schools administered by most other faiths are far less open to pupils of other religions and no religion.

The UK is one of a small number of countries to permit, let alone promote, school admissions based on parental faith And the admissions system is designed to foster competition between communities at a wider level, by demanding that parents "re-discover" their faith for a few years, attending a church they have long since left and even gaining extra points for various church duties, including volunteering to arrange the church flowers. Religious leaders not only connive with this hypocrisy, but also attempt to revel in the pretence of a unique identity, in which minor differences are heightened – the complete antipathy of shared humanity, which is supposedly the essence and fundamental belief of all faiths.

The Fair Admissions Campaign has a simple aim – that all state-funded schools in England and Wales should be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. David Cameron promised us an end to "state multiculturalism", but here it is, solidly embedded in our school system. Ending such practices has to be the only way forward in a multi-faith society in which diversity is continuing to grow. And religious organisations, so quick to advocate the principle of "non-discrimination" in other goods and services, must surely now recognise that only by ending institutional discrimination in schools will we begin to bring about a reduction in the communal enmity and violence that is bred by segregation.