Time to end discrimination by faith schools, says teaching union

By staff writers
March 15, 2007
ATL's Mary Bousted

Faith schools which discriminate against potential pupils and staff should no longer be allowed state funding, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has said.

The union is attempting to reopen the debate on the future of faith schools after plans were dropped to force faith schools to take 25% of new pupils from other or no faiths.

ATL has come to its conclusion following consultation its members on the role of faith schools.

ATL general secretary, Dr Mary Bousted, said: “We need schools which embrace the diversity within our community, not a diversity of schools dividing pupils and staff on religious grounds.

“Faith schools must become far more accountable if they are to continue getting the current level of tax-payers money. In a country which is becoming increasingly secular and multi-faith it is hard to justify public taxes being used to fund schools which discriminate against the majority of school children and potential staff on the grounds of their religious belief.

”We acknowledge that some faith schools provide excellent teaching and are well integrated into their local community. However, too many do not and unless there are some important changes to the way faith schools operate we fear they will escalate divisions in society rather than help integrate our communities.”

Faith schools currently get grants from the state of up to 90% of the costs of school buildings and 100% of the running costs.

As a result of selective admissions pupils in faith schools are less likely to be entitled to free school meals, and are more likely to have English as their first language than the national average in schools across England.

As well as discriminating in school admissions in favour of children of parents who attend churches linked to schools, many faith schools are allowed to discriminate when they are employ staff. Voluntary aided faith schools can stipulate the beliefs of all their employees, and the fully local authority funded voluntary controlled faith schools are allowed to determine the faith of their head teacher.

ATL is calling for the level of school autonomy – over admissions and the curriculum – to depend on the school promoting community cohesion. It is also urging no extension of rights to be given to faith schools to refuse to employ staff on the basis of their religious belief.

ATL's position statment on faith schools can be accessed here.

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