Thursday, September 02, 2010

Accord Coalition Quarterly Report

source: mailshot 2nd September 2010 from Accord Coalition - Quarterly Report No.7 September 2010

The fast pace of the new Government since the General Election - especially that of Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove - has left some people lost in admiration and others extremely worried.

Accord has changed from being 'the new kid on the block' who unexpectedly burst onto the scene in September 2008 to a well respected Coalition with a serious agenda.

However, it still occasionally happens that our purpose is misrepresented - either deliberately by those with a vested interest to protect, or through journalists being lazy - so when this occurred in the Church of England Newspaper recently, the following letter - friendly but firm - was sent to clarify our cause:

Sir, Further to your front page article (May 28th), it is important to correct your assertion that the Accord Coalition is 'anti-faith school'. Nor, for the record, are we anti-faith. We are an organisation that encompasses both religious and non-religious groups, and we are concerned about faith schools as currently constituted because of their impact both on the children who attend and on society at large. We believe that the exemptions given to faith schools in terms of their ability to discriminate over admission of pupils and employment of staff are neither right nor healthy. We are also worried that the failure by many faith schools to teach about religions and cultures other than their own denies their pupils the minimum level of general knowledge they should receive. We do not want a multi-faith society to become a multi-fractious one, and hold that more inclusive policies and a more rounded syllabus will produce better social cohesion.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain Chair, Accord Coalition


As promised in the Conservative Party's election manifesto, a Bill was brought forward to accelerate the transformation of schools into Academies. The Accord Coalition did not take issue with the concept of Academy Schools, but was concerned about the practical effects of certain aspects of the new proposals.

One was the lack of inspection from Ofsted to which the new schools would be subject. It meant that the Government's eagerness to give schools far greater operational freedom also freed them from regulations that help ensure the education they provide is properly balanced, broad and does not promote extreme views.

Another worry was that all schools with a religious character that become a new Academy would suddenly acquire wide ranging power to turn away both pupils and teaching staff on religious grounds. The Government labelled these powers as an 'exemption', but they could be more accurately described as 'discrimination'.

The following multi-signed letter was organised by us and sent to 'The Times' whilst the Bill was being debated in the House of Commons - and although it was not printed in the Times, its contents were widely distributed and covered elsewhere:

Sir, As members of ten different religious groups who welcome the government's desire to improve educational standards, we are concerned about possible side-effects of the Academies Bill going through the House of Commons this week. First, it is unclear whether foundation and voluntary controlled faith schools that become new Academies will still be obliged to adopt a locally agreed religious syllabus that teaches about many faiths, or instead if they will be able to focus solely on the school's particular religion - which we think would be a regressive step and should be resisted. Second, changing to Academy status will mean that faith schools that previously served the local community will now be able to select many more pupils according to faith and in effect create a religious ghetto. It would be detrimental to British society if children from different faith backgrounds were to grow up as strangers. Third, it is vital that Academies are not hijacked by those with an extreme agenda that militates against social cohesion or that promote religious obscurantism. If it is to give greater freedoms, the government must also have greater monitoring to ensure those freedoms are not abused.

Revd Jeremy Chadd (C of E) Rev Marie Dove (Methodist) Symon Hill (Quaker) Jay Lakhani (Hindu) Derek McAuley (Unitarian) Rev Iain McDonald (United Reformed Church) Manzoor Moghal (Muslim) Brian Pearce (Buddhist) Martin Pendergast (Catholic) Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain (Jewish)


The Government has indicated that there will be a major review of the National Curriculum this autumn. This will present us with a major opportunity to ensure that all schools will avoid the extremes of either teaching one faith or no faith, but will instead teach a broad syllabus that educates pupils of all backgrounds about those with dissimilar traditions but who are as much part of society as they are and with whom they need to interact positively. As part of the public aspect of this campaign, the following letter was published in 'The Times' on 21st August:

Sir, It is ironic that while atheists such as Richard Dawkins want Religious Education to be on the National Curriculum (report, Aug 18), there are many religious people who oppose it to safeguard their own particular interests. At the moment R.E. is in the anomalous position of being the only subject that is a statutory subject - i.e. it must be taught - but it is not on the National Curriculum - i.e. there is no set syllabus for it, just non-compulsory guidelines. This had led to wide variations according to local agreements or the category of schools, with many instances of only one faith being taught. It is vital that all children should know about the history, beliefs and traditions of the many different belief systems (including Humanism) that makeup multi-faith Britain today, whatever their own personal religious orientation. It is a matter both of general knowledge and social cohesion. The Accord Coalition - which unites those of faith and no faith concerned about religious education - urges the government to take this step during its review of the curriculum next month, and thereby ensure that the next generation can be not only diverse, but also informed and at ease with itself.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain Chair, Accord Coalition

The Government's curriculum review will also provide us with an opportunity to highlight some of our other key concerns, such as the failure of schools to teach good quality Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education. PSHE includes age appropriate Sex and Relationships Education (SRE).

At the moment PSHE is not compulsory and some schools do not teach it, while in others its provision is of a poor standard. The provision of SRE in the UK lags far behind that of many other developed societies and it is of little wonder that the UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Western Europe. Last week's report from the Health Protection Agency showing that rates of sexually transmitted infections have risen yet again came as little surprise to me.

We want all children to have an entitlement to high standard SRE, regardless of which school they attend, and will be urging the Government to make PSHE compulsory in all state maintained schools. Our failure to ensure that schools provide thorough, accurate and balanced SRE continues to place our children's health and wellbeing at risk.


The Accord Coalition Co-ordinator, Paul Pettinger, and I both attended one of the hustings for the Labour Party leadership campaign. We made sure that the issue of faith schools was raised and asked the candidates as to how they would ensure that faith schools could be more inclusive and enhance future citizenship.

Our questioning promoted an encouraging reply from Andy Burnham MP, who is the only openly religious candidate. He stated that while he was in favour of faith schools in principle the schools '... should be open to all and that RE should be on the National Curriculum'.


When the Accord Coalition came into existence, it quickly became clear that there were a lot of opinions swirling around about faith schools, but little hard data that was widely available. One of the tasks we set ourselves was to create a database of research carried out by reputable bodies, which we have made publically available for supporters, researchers and journalists to find out about the consequences of current policy on faith schools.

One of the pieces of research that we have assembled includes a report by the House of Commons in 2009, which looked at the relationship between admissions and performance at faith schools. It showed that all denominational schools admitted fewer children in receipt of free school meals (FSM) and fewer with special education needs (SEN) on average than schools without a religious character. Moreover, the report showed that faith schools were disproportionately established in poor areas, and therefore their low FSM figures were even more surprising when compared to the areas in which they were located. This raises questions about their admission policies and suggests that some form of covert social selection in state-funded faith schools is taking place.

In this and all other cases, it is important that such concerns are examined using meticulously researched information and are not just political slogans bandied around at will. This ensures that we have hard evidence on which to base our opinions and thus our campaign and lobbying work. It is important that we continue to update our database and we would appreciate hearing from anyone involved in recent or on-going research so that we know to include the latest studies.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE Chair, The Accord Coalition.

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