Liberal party and faith schools

PupilsEkklesia the self-styled 'religious think-tank' has welcomed the proposals by the Liberal Democrats to oblige 'faith schools' to teach about other faiths; and to have faith schools be obliged to to hae open admission policies or have their pubic funding withdrawn.

The Liberal Democrats have become the first mainstream political party to claim that many faith schools currently pursue unnecessary practices in admissions and employment which work against inclusion - and pledge to challenge them.

At their Spring Conference this weekend 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to put the onus on existing publicly funded schools of a religious character to be inclusive or to have their funding withdrawn. 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.

In endorsing these moves as 'a breakthrough', Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley said:

"This vote is a breakthrough. It is the first time that a mainstream political party has acknowledged that there are significant barriers that faith schools need to remove if they are to be fully inclusive. It is also the first time that a mainstream political party has pledged to tackle the barriers which stand in the way of achieving full inclusion in faith schools. As such the change of policy represents an important shift from denial that there is a problem, to acknowledgement that action needs to be taken.

"It is important that those who take public funding for their faith schools, particularly those in the churches, now respond positively rather than defensively. The new Lib Dem policy is a crucial development in the public debate about how to make faith schools better, and inclusion is an agenda around which everyone should be able to unite."

Meanwhile the well-respected Christian Institute has written:

Banning faith schools from selecting pupils who share their beliefs would be “unjust” and would undermine their ethos, says a group of religious leaders.

In a letter to The Guardian newspaper, leaders from across the UK’s major faiths argue that faith schools already have restricted selection powers.

They say it would be perverse to limit these further, when it is the faith-based values of these schools that make them popular with parents.

The letter comes just days after a new report commissioned by Research and Information on State Education (RISE) said faith schools and academies should lose the power to form their own selection criteria.

In the letter the religious leaders argue: “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 letter continues: “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.”

According to the Christian Institute, faith schools have come under increasing attack from critics who say they should not be allowed to choose pupils who share their beliefs.

Last year, the Centre for Policy Studies accused the Government of conducting a “witch hunt” targeting faith schools in order to impress the secular lobby.

Ekklesia was established in 2002 and is a founder member of Accord, a coalition of both religious and non-religious organisations. It includes 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 Accord coalition also include teachers' union ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) and the British Humanist Association.

Christians Together, 16/03/2009

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