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.