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BHA: Open letter from organisations united in opposition to faith-based school admissions

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Fourteen national organisations have joined forces to write to Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove to object to the ongoing practice of state-funded schools religiously selecting pupils in admissions. The letter, which has been organised by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and the Accord Coalition, is also signed by Professor Ted Cantle CBE’s Institute of Community Cohesion Foundation, the National Union of Teachers, and race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, and comes as the issue is pushed back up the political agenda by a recent High Court ruling that religious groups can avoid rules which meant that most new schools had to have at least 50% of places allocated without reference to religion.

The letter reads:

Dear Michael Gove,

There is increasing public concern over state-funded schools religiously selecting in admissions. A survey has shown that the public oppose such selection by more than four to one, and the first ever judicial review against a new school because of the issue has been heard at the High Court.

We are writing to you to express our view that this discrimination should not continue to take place. Dr James Doyle, Roman Catholic Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, said it eloquently, when in 1830 he told a Parliamentary Committee:

‘I do not see how any man, wishing well to the public peace, and who looks to Ireland as his country, can think that peace can ever be permanently established, or the prosperity of the country ever well secured, if children are separated at the commencement of life on account of their religious opinions. I do not know any measure which would prepare the way for a better feeling in Ireland than uniting children at an early age, and bringing them up in the same schools, leading them to commune with one another, and to form those little intimacies and friendships which often subsist through life. Children thus united, know and love each other, as children brought up together always will; and to separate them is, I think, to destroy some of the finest feelings in the hearts of men.’

We take no common position on the suitability of the state funding religious schools. However, we believe that selecting pupils on religious grounds contributes to greater segregation. It is also widely regarded as discriminatory and unfair. We urge you to amend the law to end such selection.

Yours sincerely,

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Chair, Accord Coalition
Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, British Humanist Association
Tehmina Kazi, Director, British Muslims for Secular Democracy
Dr Artemi Sakellariadis, Director, Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE)
Simon Barrow and Jonathan Bartley, Co-Directors, Ekklesia
Holly Dustin, Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition
Derek McAuley, Chief Officer, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
Professor Ted Cantle CBE, Institute of Community Cohesion Foundation
Fiona Millar, Local Schools Network
Christine Blower, General Secretary, National Union of Teachers
Jeremy Rodell, Spokesperson, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign
Rob Berkeley, Director, Runnymede Trust
Melissa Benn, Vice President, Socialist Educational Association

It was recently revealed that Vince Cable, the local MP to the schools at the centre of the High Court case, had accused Michael Gove’s officials of breaking the Coalition Agreement by intervening in it.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘Recent events have pushed the religious admissions debate up the political agenda, and yet, in spite of widespread opposition to such discrimination, things only seem to be heading backwards. We urge the Government to take steps to meet its Coalition Agreement commitment to “work with faith groups to… facilitate inclusive admissions policies in as many [faith] schools as possible.”’

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Chair of the Accord Coalition, commented, ‘It is heart-breaking that faith has become a tool for discrimination at the centre of the educational system, while it gives a terrible message to the children themselves. A society which is not only mixed but also mixes is much healthier for everyone within it.’

Professor Ted Cantle OBE, best known for authoring the eponymous report into the 2001 race riots, said, ‘We live in a multi-faith and multi-ethnic community, but if we want a shared society our schools have to become shared too. The evidence suggests that they are moving in the opposite direction with increasing segregation. Now is the time for faith schools to accept change.’

Notes

For further comment or information from the BHA, contact Chief Executive Andrew Copson on 07534 248596 or at andrew@humanism.org.uk.

For further comment from the Accord Coalition, contact Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain on 07770 722 893 or at rabromain@aol.com.

Read the previous press release, ‘Full judgement published in Richmond Catholic schools judicial review’: http://humanism.org.uk/2012/12/14/full-judgement-published-in-richmond-catholic-schools-judicial-review/

Read the previous press release, ‘Vince Cable accuses Michael Gove’s officials of breaking Coalition Agreement on ‘faith’ school admissions’: http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/1150

A survey by the Accord Coalition published on 12 November found that 73% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that ‘state funded schools should not be allowed to select or discriminate against prospective pupils on religious grounds in their admissions policy’, while only 18% disagreed. Read the Accord press release, ‘Nearly three quarters of the British public disagrees with religious selection in admissions at state funded schools’: http://accordcoalition.org.uk/2012/11/12/nearly-three-quarters-of-the-british-public-disagrees-with-religious-selection-in-admissions-at-state-funded-schools/

Read the Coalition Agreement: http://www.direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_dg/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/documents/digitalasset/dg_187876.pdf

Read more about the British Humanist Association’s work on ‘faith’ schools: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

Read the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character: http://www.humanism.org.uk/_uploads/documents/schools-with-a-religious-character.pdf

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

The Accord Coalition was launched in 2008 and brings together religious and non-religious organisations who to ensure that state funded schools promote inclusion, mutual understanding and properly respect the beliefs of staff, pupils and their families, especially on the grounds of religion and philosophy. It campaigns to end religious discrimination in school staffing and admissions, and for all state maintained schools to provide Personal, Social, Health and Economic education, as well as assemblies and Religious Education that teaches about the broad range of beliefs in our increasingly diverse society. Visit Accord’s website: http://accordcoalition.org.uk/

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