Opinion Former Article

Joint letter: religious leaders, parliamentarians, education experts tell Education Secretary to keep cap on faith school admissions

A group of religious leaders, parliamentarians, education experts, and prominent public figures have signed a joint letter calling on the new Education Secretary Damian Hinds to reconsider a proposal to allow fully segregated intakes in new and existing religious free schools. The letter, organised by Humanists UK, states that removing the so-called 50% cap on religious selection betrays the duty of schools to be ‘open, inclusive, diverse, and integrated’.

In 2016, the Government consulted on proposals to drop the current requirement that all new religious free schools keep at least half of their places open to all local children, irrespective of religion or belief. This is despite the evidence that the so-called 50% cap on religious selection has significantly boosted integration in religious schools and improved the fair access of local families to local schools.

Whilst the former Education Secretary, Justine Greening, was understood to have reconsidered the proposals following extensive campaigning by Humanists UK and its supporters, the new Education Secretary is now reportedly going ahead with the proposals.

Among the signatories to the joint letter are former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson, President of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain OBE, former government integration tsar Ted Cantle CBE, the General Secretaries of the National Education Union Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, as well as a number of high-profile authors, academics, and entertainers.

The letter reads:

'We represent a diverse range of educational, religious, political, academic, and other stakeholders from across British society, and our views on the merits or otherwise of faith schools are diverse too. However, we are all in agreement that our state schools, of whatever character, should be open, inclusive, diverse, and integrated, and never exclusive, monocultural, or segregated.

The Government rightly identifies the promotion of mutual understanding and tolerance for those of different religions and beliefs as one of the most important roles for schools. As we are all aware, children are blind to the differences and immune to the prejudices that so often divide society. The duty of the education system, therefore, should not be to highlight and entrench such differences in the eyes and minds of young people, but to emphasise instead the common values that we all share.

Removing the 50% cap on religious selection at faith-based free schools runs entirely counter to this ambition. It is difficult to bring to mind a more divisive policy, or one more deleterious to social cohesion and respect, than one which allows schools to label children at the start of their lives with certain beliefs and then divide them up on that basis. 

The Department for Education is yet to respond formally to its consultation on these proposals - opposed by 80% of the public, including 67% of Catholics and 71% of Christians overall. All the evidence shows categorically that the cap has achieved its stated aim. It is not too late to maintain it.'

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘People from across the political spectrum, representing a range of different religions and beliefs, are united on this one point: whatever your views on faith schools themselves, it cannot be right for taxpayer-funded schools to divide and discriminate against children. That is the principle that underpins this letter, and it ought to be the principle that underpins our education system too.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 07970 393 680 / 0207 324 3078.

The full list of signatories is as follows:

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK

Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury

Revd Stephen Terry, Chair, Accord Coalition

Derek McAuley, Chief Officer, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches

Rabia Mirza, Director, British Muslims for Secular Democracy

Revd Iain McDonald

Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary, NEU

Kevin Courtney, General Secretary, NEU

Professor Steve Jones

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain OBE, President, Accord Coalition

Sarah Wollaston MP

Dr Theo Hobson

Lord Storey, President, Liberal Democrat Education Association

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader, Green Party

Caroline Lucas MP, co-leader, Green Party

Selina Todd, President, Socialist Education Association

Revd Marie Dove

Professor Richard Dawkins

Baroness Whitaker

Rabbi Dr David Goldberg OBE

Louise King, Director, Children’s Rights Alliance for England

Simon Barrow, Director, Ekklesia

Professor Ted Cantle CBE, Director, Institute for Community Cohesion Foundation

Lord Meghnad Desai

Baroness Lola Young

Professor AC Grayling CBE

Professor Alice Roberts

Revd Richard Bentley

Lord Tristan Garel-Jones

Revd Jeremy Chadd

Peter Tatchell

Professor Christopher Rowland

Natalie Haynes

Sir Stephen Sedley

Baroness Joan Bakewell, co-chair, All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group

Ian McEwan CBE

Simon Singh MBE

Baroness Thornton

Philip Pullman CBE

Lord Dick Taverne

Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou

Professor Richard Norman

Alan Murray, Director, All Faiths and None

Professor Colin Blakemore

Dr Peter Cave

Nicci Gerrard

Professor Stephen Gibbons

Sir John Sulston

Professor Richard Wiseman

Sue Cook

Michael Gore CVO, CBE

Joan Smith

Sir Roy Calne

Professor Raymond Tallis

Professor Stephen Smartt

Dr Richard Bartle

Professor David Hand

Jamie Theakston

Elisabeth Dalton

Janet Ellis MBE

Baroness Elaine Murphy

Sir Keith Thomas

Professor Pat McKeown OBE

Professor Sir Anthony Epstein CBE

Professor Keith Ward

Virginia Ironside

Warren Ellis

Dr Michael Irwin

Adèle Anderson

Baroness Lorely Burt

Maureen Duffy

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