The government’s u-turn on its manifesto promise to lift the 50% cap on faith-based admissions to new religious free schools is a positive development – and a significant win for secularists who have vigorously opposed the measure. Huffington Post reports.
But what the government gives with one hand, it takes away with the other. Instead of scrapping the cap on free school faith admissions, the education secretary, Damian Hinds, has sought to appease religious lobby groups by making it easier for faith groups to open new voluntary-aided faith schools, which can select 100% of pupils on faith grounds.
Encouraging more voluntary-aided schools is a regressive step and a back-door attempt to expand faith school education and increase the number of school places allocated on the basis of faith.What’s more, rather than providing broad and balanced religious education, voluntary-aided schools teach an archaic confessional kind of RE in accordance with the teachings of the religion of the school. A recent investigation into sex and relationships education in faith schools also found that many voluntary-aided faith schools are failing to provide pupils with clear and accurate information.
Schools provide a golden opportunity to bring pupils and parents from different faith backgrounds together. An education system that tackles division and promotes inclusivity and equality should be a priority for education ministers. If the government is serious about promoting fundamental values and social cohesion, it cannot afford its current equivocal approach.
The ministerial volte-face on the admissions cap is perhaps a sign that the tide is turning against faith schools. The government says it expects all proposers of new faith schools to promote integration and inclusivity – but surely it realises that the very concept of faith-based education is inimical to that?
Unlike with free schools, which are approved nationally by the secretary of state, local authorities will play a key role in approving any new voluntary aided school. This is good news for democratic accountability. Local residents should insist that the schools that serve their communities bring children together and don’t turn them away simply because they’re not baptised or their parents aren’t sufficiently pious. Any local authority that plans to open a discriminatory faith school can expect opposition every step of the way.
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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