Ed Balls today denied offering faith schools an opt-out from new rules requiring teachers to address issues such as homosexual equality and contraception in sex education lessons.
Speaking on the Radio 4 Today Programme this morning, the Schools Secretary said that the Children, Schools and Families Bill which has its Report Stage and Third Reading in the House of Commons today, would introduce an "overdue and radical change" and that a controversial amendment tabled by the government earlier this month would not "water down" the plans.
A last minute amendment to the Bill however, tabled by Balls, has alarmed equality campaigners, allowing faith schools to teach such issues in a way that "reflects their religious character".
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chair of the Accord Coalition which campaigns for reform of faith schools, and of which Ekklesia is a founder member, said: “It is precisely because this is such an enlightened and progressive Bill that we are astonished and saddened by the fact that [Mr Balls] has now chosen to amend his own Bill and to effectively give faith schools an opt-out.
“If a school doesn't approve of contraception or abortion or homosexuality, then it can give that message or it can omit certain facts. We know there are some faith schools which take a very negative view.
“I value religion - not just my own but the faith of others - but I value even more that children should have exactly what Ed Balls intended: a balanced and accurate education.”
Lib Dem schools spokesman David Laws said ministers were in a 'terrific muddle' and claimed the amendment would allow faith schools to dodge the new laws.
“The issue is, in the 21st century, are we going to have a school system which is going to be tolerant of intolerance in the name of religious freedom?,” he said.
“Or should we say in the 21st century that it is right that all state-funded schools should be teaching tolerance and respect for diversity?
“After all, there are already opt-outs for parents and there is already the wider obligation to teach in relation to the religious and culture background of pupils.”
In a letter to the Times today, Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley points to the evidence which suggests that children in faith schools are more likely to suffer from homophobic bullying.