Posts tagged schools

Should we fund ‘faith’ schools?

Report on the talk by Richy Thompson, BHA Campaigns Officer.

Richy’s talk covered the history of ‘faith’ schools in England to the present day and the rise of Academies and Free Schools. He gave out an overview of different types of ‘faith’ schools, stating that 34% of state schools in England and 14% in Wales have a religious character. Key points of interest were:

  • The number of ‘faith’ schools is increasing and the Church of England may be planning a large expansion of its schools
  • The running costs of Voluntary aided schools are funded by the Local Authority as well as 90% of building costs. The religious group only have to pay the remaining 10%.
  • All schools have to hold a daily act of collective worship, either in line with the faith of the school, or, if the school is not a ‘faith’ school, of a broadly Christian character, (though the majority of ‘non-faith’ schools do not implement the law – 80% according to OFSTED – and it is not enforced). Many schools do, however, hold ‘assemblies.’ Richy receives many complaints from parents concerned about the effects on their children, including evangelising and the telling of stories which give them nightmares.
  • Academies and Free Schools, many of which are controlled by religious groups, are state-funded. Richy stated that ‘evangelical’ and ‘pseudoscientific’ groups had been approved. These schools do not need to teach the wider national curriculum or hire qualified teachers.

Richy identified ‘six myths’ which are used to defend ‘faith’ schools and he put forward arguments as to why they are untrue. He concluded by reiterating that ‘faith’ schools can be divisive and that all children should be educated together.

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Lib Dems and Faith Schools

The Liberal Democrats have become the first mainstream political party in Britain to admit that many faith schools currently pursue unnecessary discriminatory practices in admissions and employment and to pledge to challenge them.

At their Spring Conference in March the party voted to put the onus on existing publicly funded schools of a religious character to be inclusive or to have their funding withdrawn, while new faith schools would not be allowed to select pupils on grounds of religion or belief.

The party also voted to end “the opt out from employment and equalities legislation for staff in faith schools, except those responsible for religious education”.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for all faith schools to be required to teach about other beliefs in a balanced way, something that most do not currently have to do.

The vote was hailed as a ‘breakthrough moment’ by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, the Chair of Accord, which campaigns to reform the way faith schools operate and to achieve universal standards of openness and inclusion for all schools in Britain.

Dr Romain said: “The political tide is turning. It is a recognition that it is not in the best interest of children or society at large for faith schools to use pupil selection and staff employment practices that are discriminatory and divisive. It is vital for the social harmony of Britain that schools build bridges between different faith communities, not isolate them from each other. Accord welcomes the bravery of the Liberal Democrats in being the first political party to put the national good above sectarian interests. We urge Labour and the Conservatives to rethink their current faith schools policy which amounts to a system of religious segregation and which the next generation will have cause to regret.”

Accord is a coalition of both religious and non-religious organisations and individuals campaigning for an end to discrimination in school staffing and admissions. The coalition also campaigns for a fair and balanced RE curriculum and the removal of the requirement for compulsory collective worship.

Members of the coalition include teachers’ union ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers), religion and society think-tank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association.

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