Archive for August, 2010

Education: the academies bill

The Academies Bill has finished its rapid passage through the Lords and has moved to the House of Commons. Crucial secularist amendments in the Lords — such as those made by Baroness Massey of Darwin — were given short shrift.

The prelates from the Bishops Bench, on the other hand, have much to celebrate and had little need to table their usual self-interested amendments. The Bill requires faith schools converting to Academies to retain their religious character, but there is no matching provision in the Bill to prevent community schools adopting a religious character when converting. This is likely to lead to a greater proportion of faith school places, despite a decline in religious belief, putting non-religious people at an even greater disadvantage and in some cases being deleterious to cohesion. Furthermore, religious schools converting to academies will be able to retain their existing admissions arrangements even if these result in every one of the pupils being selected on the grounds of religion (or purported religion), whereas until now academies with a religious designation have had their religious selection capped at 50%.

Efforts were made by secularists in the Commons to mitigate some of the religious privileges that will flow from the Bill. Prominent among the challengers was Dr Julian Huppert, the new (LibDem) MP for Cambridge. He made several interventions and put down probing amendments addressing the likely increase in the proportion of religious places. Dr Huppert’s fair and sensible proposals did not please Dr John Pugh, who described himself as speaking for the “non-secular” wing of the LibDems, nor, more importantly, did they find favour with schools Minister Nick Gibb. In responding to Dr Huppert, Mr Gibb did however make a commitment that: “entirely new faith academies — by that I mean those that do not have a predecessor maintained school with a religious character — will be required to offer 50% of places to pupils from the community with no test of faith”.

The Government’s treatment of religious schools in the Academies Bill and its rejection of any secularist amendments whatsoever confirm fears that this Government is even less secular-friendly than its predecessor. The Bill will revolutionise the education system in this country, particularly in its relegation of the role of local authorities. The Government’s determination to push through the Bill with indecent haste has understandably led to criticism that a Bill making such sweeping and far-reaching changes requires much more examination.

Tony Akkermans


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Protest the Pope march through London on day of Hyde Park mass

The Protest the Pope campaign has announced its large-scale march through London on Saturday 18 September – the day that the Pope will be holding his outdoor mass in Hyde Park.

The protest march will assemble at 1pm at Hyde Park Corner – Piccadilly Downslip (full details will be made available nearer the time). It will then proceed through central London and arrive in the vicinity of Parliament Square (details currently being discussed with New Scotland Yard).

This is in response to Ratzinger’s first event in London, on Friday 17th September, which will be at St Mary’s University College in Twickenham, just down the road from Richmond, where he will talk about his views on Education.

A spokesperson for the Protest the Pope Campaign said: “We reject the promotion of segregated education and state funding of faith schools.

This is why the Campaign will support a local coalition of associations based in South West London that are organising protests on the 17th September in Twickenham: a day that will be themed “Education Day”. The Protest the Pope campaign’s main target is not so much the right of the Pope to visit but his conduct over priestly child abuse and the exorbitant security cost to the hard pressed British taxpayer.

Tony Akkermans

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From Newsletter 57

For coming events, please see the Events and Meetings page.

Volunteers called for

There is a vacancy on the committee for a Publicity Officer. Would any member interested in filling this position please contact Tony .

A volunteer is also required for the job of Observer/member on the Hereford SACRE (Standing Advisory Committee for Religious Education).


The group is making a £ 150 donation towards the Pakistan Floods Appeal. It serves as a reminder that members’ subscriptions and donations are always put to the best of causes.

Humanist Officiants

Details of Humanist officiants for funerals, weddings and baby namings can be obtained from the British Humanist Association. Group members who provide this service are: Sue Falder, Pauline Oram and Jano Rochefort (weddings and baby namings only). Further information from the BHA.

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