A wide range of civic groups have written to the Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, urging that religious selection in state-funded school admissions be finally brought to an end.
Over a third of state-funded schools in England and Wales have a religious character, and most of these can and do select pupils on faith grounds when they are oversubscribed.
The letter, co-organised by the Accord Coalition for inclusive education, has been signed by fourteen organisations, including religion and belief groups, teaching unions, humanists, and organisations concerned about community cohesion.
The letter follows a ComRes poll published last month and commissioned by the Accord Coalition, which showed that the public opposes religious selection in admissions at state funded schools by a ratio of more than four to one
Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said “The problems created for society by segregating children on religious grounds, and the unfairness of institutionalised religious discrimination in pupil admissions, have been evident for many generations, and the signatories believe, like most people in Britain, that religious selection in school admissions should not be part of our future”.
Professor Ted Cantle, best known for authoring the eponymous report into England’s 2001 race riots and Executive Chair of the Institute for Community Cohesion Foundation, is one of those backing the initiative.
He commented: "We live in a multi-faith and multi-ethnic community, but if we want a shared society our schools have to become shared too. The evidence suggests that they are moving in the opposite direction with increasing segregation. Now is the time for faith schools to accept change."
The full letter reads as follows:
Dear Mr Gove,
There is increasing public concern over state-funded schools religiously selecting in admissions. A survey has shown that the public oppose such selection by more than four to one, and the first ever judicial review against a new school because of the issue has been heard at the High Court.
We are writing to express our view that this discrimination should not continue to take place. Dr James Doyle, Roman Catholic Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, said it eloquently, when in 1830 he told a Parliamentary Committee:
‘I do not see how any man, wishing well to the public peace, and who looks to Ireland as his country, can think that peace can ever be permanently established, or the prosperity of the country ever well secured, if children are separated at the commencement of life on account of their religious opinions. I do not know any measure which would prepare the way for a better feeling in Ireland than uniting children at an early age, and bringing them up in the same schools, leading them to commune with one another, and to form those little intimacies and friendships which often subsist through life. Children thus united, know and love each other, as children brought up together always will; and to separate them is, I think, to destroy some of the finest feelings in the hearts of men.’
We take no common position on the suitability of the state funding of religious schools. However, we believe that selecting pupils on religious grounds contributes to greater segregation. It is also widely regarded as discriminatory and unfair. We urge the Government to amend the law to end such selection.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, Chair, Accord Coalition
Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, British Humanist Association
Tehmina Kazi, Director, British Muslims for Secular Democracy
Dr Artemi Sakellariadis, Director, Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE)
Simon Barrow and Jonathan Bartley, Co-Directors, Ekklesia
Holly Dustin, Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition
Derek McAuley, Chief Officer, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
Professor Ted Cantle OBE, Institute of Community Cohesion Foundation
Fiona Millar, Local Schools Network
Christine Blower, General Secretary, National Union of Teachers
Jeremy Rodell, Spokesperson, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign
Rob Berkeley, Director, Runnymede Trust
Melissa Benn, Vice President, Socialist Educational Association