Religious groups urge Lib Dems to keep schools faith selection

by Stephen Tall on March 6, 2009

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.

by david on March 6, 2009 at 9:24 pm. Reply #

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.

by Formerly Anonymous on March 6, 2009 at 9:51 pm. Reply #

The section in the paper on faith schools is actually section 4.7, which concludes:

4.7.7 Balancing these freedoms, rights and aspirations is not easy. It requires compromises.
Liberal Democrats would:
• Allow parents to continue to choose faith-based schools within the state funded sector, and allow the establishment of new faith schools.
• Ban selection by faith from new faith schools, and require all existing state-funded faith schools to phase out selection by faith in admissions within five years.
• End the opt out from employment and equalities legislation for staff in faith schools, except those responsible for religious instruction.
• Require schools who choose to hold assemblies to ensure that any act of collective worship is optional for pupils who are old enough to decide for themselves and otherwise for parents.

by Bridget Fox on March 7, 2009 at 8:04 am. Reply #

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.

by Matthew Harris on March 7, 2009 at 10:00 am. Reply #

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

by Tim Leunig on March 7, 2009 at 10:48 am. Reply #

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.

by Matthew Huntbach on March 7, 2009 at 10:51 am. Reply #


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.

by Anonymous on March 7, 2009 at 11:43 am. Reply #

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.

by Religious Indoctrination is Child Abuse on March 7, 2009 at 11:44 am. Reply #

Like the dogma that all religious instruction is indoctrination…

by david on March 7, 2009 at 1:31 pm. Reply #

The demand for Muslim schools comes from parents who want their children a safe environment with an Islamic ethos.Parents see Muslim schools where children can develop their Islamic Identity where they won’t feel stigmatised for being Muslims and they can feel confident about their faith.
Muslim schools are working to try to create a bridge between communities.
There is a belief among ethnic minority parens that the British schooling
does not adequatly address their cultural needs. Failing to meet this need could result in feeling resentment among a group who already feel excluded. Setting up Muslim school is a defensive response.

State schools with monolingual teachers are not capable to teach English to bilingual Muslim children. Bilingual teachers are needed to teach English to such children along with their mother tongue. According to a number of studies, a child will not learn a second language if his first language is ignored.

Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual
Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. Muslims
have the right to educate their children in an environment that suits their
culture. This notion of “integration”, actually means “assimilation”, by
which people generally really mean “be more like me”. That is not
multiculturalism. In Sydney, Muslims were refused to build a Muslim school,
because of a protest by the residents. Yet a year later, permission was
given for the building of a Catholic school and no protests from the
residents. This clrearly shows the blatant hypocrisy, double standards and racism. Christians oppose Muslim schools in western countries yet build
their own religious schools.

British schooling and the British society is the home of institutional
racism. The result is that Muslim children are unable to develop
self-confidence and self-esteem, therefore, majority of them leave schools with low grades. Racism is deeply rooted in British society. Every native child is born with a gene or virus of racism, therefore, no law could change the attitudes of racism towards those who are different. It is not only the common man, even member of the royal family is involved in racism. The
father of a Pakistani office cadet who was called a “Paki” by Prince Harry
has profoundly condemned his actions. He had felt proud when he met the
Queen and the Prince of Wales at his son’s passing out parade at Sandhurst
in 2006 but now felt upset after learning about the Prince’s comments. Queen Victoria invited an Imam from India to teach her Urdu language. He was highly respected by the Queen but other members of the royal family had no respect for him. He was forced to go back to India. His protrait is still in
one of the royal places.

There are hundreds of state schools where Muslim pupils are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be designated as Muslim community schools with bilingual Muslim teachers. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.
Iftikhar Ahmad

by Iftikhar on March 7, 2009 at 5:21 pm. Reply #

“Like the dogma that all religious instruction is indoctrination . . .”

No, not like that at all. Because religious instruction is indoctrination for the simple reason that when it comes to the central tenets of religion, there are “no clear facts to be ascertained.” That last phrase comprises the precise words used by Rowan Williams when I saw him last year.

I’m afraid that if there are “no clear facts to be ascertained,” then indoctrination is all that remains.

by Laurence Boyce on March 7, 2009 at 5:51 pm. Reply #

It is a vicious lie, Matthew, to describe this policy as “in effect” destroying religious schools. Very many religious schools do not select on faith already. Are you claiming that none of these are really faith schools?

by Joe Otten on March 8, 2009 at 6:50 pm. Reply #

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.

by Matthew Huntbach on March 8, 2009 at 8:49 pm. Reply #

“Parents see Muslim schools [as places] where children can develop their Islamic Identity . . .”

Correction. You mean as places where children can develop the Islamic identity of their parents . . . which children, to whom if true freedom of expression were granted, might choose no such thing.

by Laurence Boyce on March 9, 2009 at 5:58 pm. Reply #

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