Opinion Former Article

Government says new VA schools can convert to academies, thus circumventing 50% cap

The UK Government has given the green light for new, 100% religiously selective voluntary aided (VA) schools to immediately convert to academies once opened, allowing them to bypass the 50% cap restricting how many students they can discriminate against if they opened as academies to start with, whilst still receiving 100% of their funding from the state.

Humanists UK, which campaigns for an inclusive education system with no religious discrimination, is alarmed at the Government’s move, which it says further undermines the 50% cap on new academies (also known as free schools) by further increasing the number of academies in England that can select 100% of their pupils based on religion, with non-religious families more likely to be punished in admissions.

The Government’s position, announced by Lord Agnew of Oulton in response to a question tabled by All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group Vice Chair Lord Warner in the House of Lords yesterday, comes just a day before thousands of pupils across England prepare to hear whether they have been offered a place at their chosen secondary school on National Offer Day.

Commenting on the Government’s move, Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said: ‘This outrageous development gives the green light for new VA schools to convert to academies while retaining the ability to religiously select 100% of their pupils, and receiving full state funding to do so.

‘Faith-based discrimination causes religious, ethnic and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion and school choice, so we are hugely disappointed that this is getting worse at the taxpayer’s expense. We will continue to lobby against these changes to try and ensure that pupils and families receive fairer treatment in school admissions.’

Unlike free schools, which have a 50% cap on the number of students they can discriminate against on religious grounds, VA schools - and VA schools which convert to academies - are allowed to choose all pupils based on the family’s religion.

Also, unlike VA schools, academies are 100% state-funded, can ignore the national curriculum, and the teachers they hire don’t have to have qualified teacher status. All of these policies mean there are real incentives for many VA schools to convert, says Humanists UK.

NOTES:

For more information, contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07 393344293.

For more information on the latest round of VA schools to open, visit : https://humanism.org.uk/2018/11/15/new-100-religiously-selective-state-schools-set-to-open-in-england/

For more information about our faith schools campaign work, visit https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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