Religious groups urge Lib Dems to keep schools faith selection

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Today’s Guardian reports:

In an exclusive letter published in the Guardian today, a cross-denominational group of religious leaders, led by the Church of England Board of Education, defends selection of some students and staff on the basis of commitment to their faith. The letter comes ahead of a policy debate on 5-19 education in England at the Liberal Democrats’ spring conference tomorrow, which calls for a ban on selection by faith in religious schools, and follows a critical report by academics at the London School of Economics.

The letter – signed by representatives of the Church of England, the Catholic Education Service, Jewish Leadership Council, Methodist Church, Association of Muslim Schools, Muslim Council of Britain, Network of Sikh Organisations, and Hindu Forum of Britain – notes that:

Tomorrow, the Liberal Democrats will debate education policy, including their position on the country’s 7,000 schools with religious character. … At the heart of the debate is a question about parental choice. We believe parents and students should have the right to choose the type of school where they can flourish academically, socially and spiritually. With faith schools making up over a third of the state schools in the UK, millions of parents are choosing them and only in cases where schools are full to capacity can faith be used as a criterion for allocating places. The idea of removing one of the means by which these schools of religious character protect and enhance their valued ethos would be an unjust way of responding to the increasing demand for them.

Tomorrow, delegates at the Liberal Democrat conference will have a choice of supporting the heritage and future of these schools, or supporting a policy that would damage that which helps make them so successful.

The Lib Dem policy paper, Equity and Excellence: Policies for 5-19 education in
England’s schools and colleges
, is available to read here (as a PDF document). The section on faith schools (p.24) reads as follows:

4.6 Choice for Parents, Not Selection by Schools

4.6.1 We believe that parents should be able to choose schools, and not the other way around. There is no evidence that selective educational systems improve standards.
4.6.2 We would therefore no longer permit any new state funded school to be established which uses selection by ability, aptitude, or faith, or permit any existing school to start to use such selection. We would remove the right to select by aptitude from all state funded schools.

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  • As the letter says “only in cases where schools are full to capacity can faith be used as a criterion for allocating places”. In most cases faith schools have pupils from other faiths. Why are we giving the Tories a stick to beat us with.

  • Formerly Anonymous 6th Mar '09 - 9:51pm

    I don’t quite follow that. Surely there’s nothing in the section quoted that would affect schools which currently select by faith.

    It speaks only of preventing new state schools selecting by faith, and preventing existing state schools starting to select by faith. Clearly, meaning state schools that don’t select by faith already.

  • Matthew Harris 7th Mar '09 - 10:00am

    Tim Farron’s amendment is a useful step in the right direction. Barnet Local Party has tabled another amendment, urging Conference to delete the section on faith schools from the motion. I will summate. Please support it. Then faith schools will remain a matter of conscience for MPs, PPCs and councillors, without a national party line that is critical of faith schools.

  • Good luck Matthew – I am not a delegate, so I am disenfranchised on this one.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Mar '09 - 10:51am

    Section 4.7.7 does in effect destroy religious schools by allowing others to take them over by insisting on their right to admission. An unintended consequence of this might be that it forces relgious schools to become so obnoxiously religious that no others would want to send their children to to them.

  • Bridget

    Thanks. That makes better sense.

    My problem now is that I don’t understand in what sense they would be faith schools, if they weren’t allowed to select either staff or pupils on the basis of faith.

  • Religious Indoctrination is Child Abuse 7th Mar '09 - 11:44am

    Why don’t we take a liberal stand on this issue and recognise that brainwashing children into believing in sky-fairies is bad enough at home, and that schools should be places where reason and education, not indoctrination happen?

    Let’s promote a world where reason is valued more highly than dogma, and put an end to the illogical emotion-based rubbish we’ve seen flying out of Government for decades.

  • Like the dogma that all religious instruction is indoctrination…

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Mar '09 - 8:49pm

    Joe, you accuse me of telling a “vicious lie”. Why is it “vicious” and why is it a “lie”? What motivation do you think I have for lying? What motivation do you think I have for being “vicious”?

    I am simply noting what I believe could happen – a faith schools gets a reputation for being “good”, so a lot of people who are not of that faith apply for their children to go to it. As faith is not allowed to be an element on picking who gets places, those people’s children get places. Children of the faith community which built and nurtured that school do not get places.

    So why should the school carry on being “religious” when it no longer caters for the faith community who built it? Those people have been squeezed out, perhaps they will resort to using Sunday schools and the like to pass on their culture instead.

    Why should I if I were a governor of such a school bother putting in the huge amount of effort I put into it, if it no longer has the connection to the parish community of which I am a part, and educates the children of those I know as part of my community? What you want to do, Joe, in my view – it is my view, and I write from experience, and I do not wish to hurt anyone by saying it, so if you wish to accuse me of writing a “vicious lie” please tell me what is vicious about it and why it is a lie – is in effect to destroy all that motivates people to put in effort and make these schools good schools.

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