Debate at UCL to examine the role of religion in education

By staff writers
June 10, 2011

University College London and the Accord Coalition on inclusive schooling are teaming up to host a major panel debate on the role of religion in education.

The event on Wednesday 15 June 2011 marks 140 years since the University Tests Act became law, and features leading political and religious figures.

The University Tests Act of 1871 brought to an end religious discrimination in Universities in the UK for non-theological courses. Prior to the Act, colleges at Oxford, Cambridge and Durham Universities restricted fellowships and places to study to Anglicans.

Confirmed to speak at the event are Charles Clarke (former Secretary of State for Education), Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari (Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain 2006-2010), Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE (Chair of the Accord Coalition), and Professor Anthony C. Grayling (incoming President of the British Humanist Association).

Representatives from both the Government and the Church of England have also been invited to participate in the conversation.

Professor Michael Worton, UCL’s Vice Provost for Academic affairs, said: “It is important to mark this anniversary and to engage creatively with the thinking behind the University Tests Act in the context of today’s debates around faith, freedom of expression and secularity. It is also appropriate that this debate should take place at UCL, England’s first avowedly secular university, and we are delighted to host this event in collaboration with the Accord Coalition”.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Chair of the Accord Coalition, added: “We are very pleased to be jointly hosting a public debate to mark the 140th anniversary since the University Tests Act was enacted into law with UCL, the first university institution in England to admit students regardless of their beliefs, when as a society with are still trying to balance the rights and freedoms of religious groups, their adherents, pupils, staff and parents in the education system today”.

While many universities and colleges have explicitly religious foundations, and most have active religion and belief student groups, discourse on the role of religion in the education system today focuses largely on school age education.

A third of state-funded schools in England and Wales are faith schools, and most can employ teachers and select pupils on the grounds of religion, as well as provide instructional Religious Education.

Some claim these practices help to create a more segregated school system, which may undermine community cohesion, while others believe these freedoms allow schools to foster a unique character preferred by many parents.

Almost all faith schools are Christian; some argue that many more non-Christian faith schools should be established, while others contend the state should not fund faith schools on principle.

The Accord Coalition has argued for a reform agenda to ensure that all schools, however funded, are open to all, non-discriminatory, inclusive and community-oriented.

The public event is free to attend and will take place place in Theatre 1 of the Cruciform Building on Gower Street in Bloomsbury between 19:00 and 20:30. Tickets can be booked at

Ekklesia, the beliefs and values thinktank, is one of the founding member bodies of the Accord Coalition.


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.