Accord Coalition meets with the Minister for Schools

By staff writers
27 Jan 2011

The Accord Coalition, which works for inclusive education, has met with Nick Gibb MP, the Minister of State for Schools, to urging an end to discriminatory practices.

Accord's chair, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, coordinator, Paul Pettinger, and Jonathan Bartley from the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, a founding member of Accord, met the minister to discuss current reforms and to discuss the need for change in a number of important areas.

Among the issues raised by Accord were religious discrimination in pupil admissions policies; the fact that faith schools are currently able to opt to provide narrow and instructional Religious Education rather than a broad and inclusive syllabus; children leaving the school system without receiving age appropriate Sex and Relationships Education; compulsory daily worship and alternatives to it; and issues of community cohesion.

The chair of the Accord Coalition, Dr Romain, commented: "We highlighted the wide range of deeply held concerns that our members and supporters hold about religious segregation, discriminatory practices and the provision of narrow education in our schools. We also set out a range of relatively simple measures that the Government could implement to help alleviate some of these problems. These included replacing their statutory guidance on Collective Worship, changing how Ofsted inspects the promotion of cohesion in schools, and the Government providing schools with better resources to teach Personal, Social, Health, Economic education (PSHE)."

He added: "We are grateful to Nick Gibb for listening to our concerns; we hope the Government will take up the constructive ideas we outlined and tackle the serious problems that are corroding our educational system."

The meeting with Mr Gibb followed on from a pre-election discussion with him a year ago, attended by Simon Barrow of Ekklesia and Alison Ryan from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), another Accord member body, along with Rabbi Dr Romain.

Minsters in the Department for Education have had numerous meetings with groups that oppose reform of faith schools, since they took office in May, but have been reluctant to talk to or acknowledge critics or those proposing change.

Responding to a parliamentary question from Dr Julian Huppert MP in November 2010, the government said that Ministers had held meetings at the Department with representatives from the Church of England three times, representatives from the Catholic Church and Catholic Education Service for England and Wales three times, and met with the Board of Deputies of British Jews twice.

The meeting with Accord last week was the first with reformers.

Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow said: "Successive opinion surveys, as well as independent research, indicates that the great majority of parents and teachers favour more inclusive schooling, whether provided by local authorities, religious foundations or others. Without schools genuinely open to all, real choice is undermined."

"Both this government and its predecessor seem rather nervous about reform, fearing that making necessary and commonsense changes to discriminatory admissions, employment, curriculum and assembly policies in faith schools will produce a negative reaction from those who oppose inclusion in these areas.

"But good governance is about responding to need and listening to the public, not bowing to vested interests. It is good that Minister of State Nick Gibb is willing to talk about these issues. This conversation and dialogue needs to go forward in a broad and positive fashion. These concerns will not go away, and are likely to deepen given the trajectory of current education policy."

The Accord Coalition (http://accordcoalition.org.uk/), launched in September 2008, brings together religious and non-religious organisations campaigning for an end to religious discrimination in school staffing and admissions.

The Coalition also works for a fair and balanced RE curriculum, for all pupils to receive Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education, and for the removal of the requirement for compulsory collective worship. It does not take a position for or against faith schools in principle, seeking to bring people together to argue the case for substantial reform.

Its growing list of members and supporters include the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the Hindu Academy, the British Humanist Association and members from the four largest groupings in parliament.

[Ekk/3]

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