Proper debate needed on faith schools

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Responding to recent comments about the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' position paper on faith schools, which calls for substantial reform, the religious think-tank Ekklesia has said that the churches need to be less defensive in debating these issues.

A Church of England spokesperson dismissed ATL's paper as “dogmatic and anti-libertarian”. But Ekklesia disagrees. Simon Barrow, its co-director, said: “ATL is to be congratulated for its courage in raising necessary questions about publicly-funded faith schools in a thoughtful and constructive way.”

He added: “The churches need to engage positively with the concerns of a wide section of the public, rather than trying to portray them as anti-religious sniping by a minority. Many Christians and people of other faith backgrounds oppose selection on the grounds of religion and unfairness in employment practices. They are also worried about the growth of segregated education. These are serious issues.”

As well as favouring children of parents who attend churches and religious bodies linked to them, many faith schools are allowed to select on grounds of belief when they are employ staff. Voluntary-aided faith schools can stipulate the beliefs of their eaching staff, and fully local authority funded voluntary-controlled faith schools are allowed to determine the faith of their head teacher.

"There is a strong case for saying that this is un-Christian as well as unfair in publicly-funded education which should be open to all," said Barrow. "The Gospel message is about favour-free love, not privilege for an in-group."

See: Teaching union defends its calling of faith schools to account. Also: Time to end discrimination by faith schools, says teaching union. ATL's position statement on faith schools can be accessed here.