Monday, April 06, 2009

Teachers' union calls for an end to faith schools

source: highlights comments

by Richard Garner, Education Editor

Thanks to LWS for the link.
Reposted from

blankTeachers' leaders will this week demand the phasing out of the nation's 7,000 state-funded faith schools.

As a first step, delegates at the National Union of Teachers' conference will seek a ban on opening any new faith schools – on the grounds that their admissions policies have created "segregated schooling" in many parts of the country.

The move would put the union on a collision course with the Government, which has openly sought sponsorship by religious groups for many of its flagship new academies. Several of the new academies to be opened this year have church backing.

It is also likely to provoke fierce debate within the union, as many of its members work in faith schools.

At present, there are about 7,000 faith schools in the country – 600 secondary and 6,400 primary. The vast majority are Christian: there are around 6,955 Church of England, Roman Catholic and Methodist schools. The rest consist of 36 Jewish schools, six Muslim, two Sikh and one Hindu, Greek Orthodox and Seventh-Day Adventist.

The motion, which is set to be debated at the union's annual conference in Cardiff on Saturday, states: "Religious groups, of whatever faith, should have no place in the control and management in the control and management of schools."

It declares that "all children should have the opportunity and the right to meet and work with children from a variety of backgrounds and faiths within their day-to-day education".

Supporters of the move argue that admitting pupils on religious grounds risks undermining the Government's calls to them to promote community cohesion, which has just become a legal obligation on all schools.

The union's leadership is prepared to back the motion's main aim – to declare a long-term commitment to creating a single community comprehensive system that covers all state secondary schools. However, it would rather place the emphasis on getting existing faith schools to change their admissions policies than campaign against all new proposals to establish religious schools. It will seek to persuade delegates to back a call for all schools to adopt "non-discriminatory admissions procedures".

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said: "Our preference would be that schools admissions rely on the proximity of the family to the school. The important thing for us is to ensure that all schools have to abide by the duty to promote social cohesion, rather than select on religious grounds."

The drive to create more faith schools gained impetus under Tony Blair's premiership, when he sought to persuade faith groups to become one of the key sponsors of academies.

Since then, Schools Secretary Ed Balls has insisted the Government does not have a policy in favour of creating more faith schools. However, department officials insist that ministers still value the work done by faith schools in the state education system.

Certain religious sectors agree that faith schools should do more to be more inclusive. In 2006, the Rt Rev Dr Kenneth Stevenson, the Bishop of Portsmouth and chair of the Church of England's Board of Education, wrote to then Education secretary, Alan Johnson: "I want to make a specific commitment that all new ... schools should have at least 25 per cent of places available to children with no requirement that they be of practising Christian families. The places would not be left empty if they were not filled by such children so this would technically not be a 'quota' but a 'proportion'."

Religion's role in a nation's education

There are about 6,400 primary and 600 secondary faith state schools in England

Of these, about 4,700 are Church of England, 2,100 Roman Catholic, and 150 Methodist, with 36 Jewish, six Muslim, two Sikh, one Greek Orthodox, one Hindu and one Seventh-Day Adventist

There are a further 140 Muslim schools in the UK which are not part of the state system

The only state faith schools which existed before the 1997 general election were Christian or Jewish

The state pays up to 90 per cent of the running costs

All faith schools have to teach the National Curriculum

For religious education, more than half only teach their own faith, while the remained teach a locally agreed religious syllabus

Admissions are determined by school governors, and schools can insist on proof of baptism and regular church attendance.

National Secular Society claims that 80 per cent of the population disapproves of faith schools

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