The Accord Coalition for inclusive schooling has written to the Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb MP, asking him to explain and clarify his comments made in a speech given to Catholic Diocesan Schools’ Commissioners on 13 October 2010.
In his speech, Mr Gibb claimed faith schools had "more diverse intakes than other schools" and had been recognised by Ofsted for being "more successful than non-faith schools at promoting community cohesion".
The Minister also said the Government had set aside extra finance to develop a special model funding agreement for schools with a Catholic religious character when they become new academy schools.
But the chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said yesterday that Mr Gibbs comments were "very puzzling".
He explained: "Ofsted has not recognised faith schools as being better at promoting community cohesion. Instead they have found that secondary state schools with a religious character have done more than other schools to meet the legal duty that all maintained schools in England now have to promote community cohesion."
"However, in its assessments Ofsted completely ignores those aspects of faith schools that can do most to damage community cohesion, such as their divisive pupil admissions policy, the narrow RE curriculum taught and discriminatory employment policies of the teachers," said Dr Romain.
He continued: "To argue that Ofsted has found that faith schools are more successful than non-faith schools at promoting community cohesion is simply not the case, and has insincerely been put forward by some who want faith schools to be allowed to continue to operate in narrow and discriminatory ways. The Government should be trying to expose myths around faith schools, but instead appears to be giving them credibility."
Mr Gibb’s comment that faith schools have "more diverse intakes than other schools” is also open to challenge, says the Rabbi.
"Many faith schools only admit pupils that are from a particular religious background, while the Government’s own figures show that only 11.5 per cent of pupils at faith schools in England are in receipt of free school meals, which is thought to be a fair measure of deprivation. In contrast 15.7 per cent of pupils at non-faith schools receive free school meals. These figures are all the more worrying when you consider that faith schools are disproportionately located in inner city areas," the Accord chair says.
"We have written to Mr Gibb to ask him to explain his comments and urge him to ensure that all schools are inclusive, tolerant and transparent", concludes Dr Romain.
The Accord Coalition was launched in 2008 and brings together religious and non-religious civic organisations seeking reform of current policy on faith schools. It works to end religious discrimination in school staffing and admissions, and for all state maintained schools to provide Personal, Social, Health and Economic education and assemblies and Religious Education that equip children to understand the wide variety of religions and beliefs in society.
Its growing list of members and supporters includes the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the British Humanist Association and members from the four largest groupings in parliament.