The British Humanist Association (BHA) and the religious thinktank Ekklesia are amongst those who have today criticised as 'misguided' a report published today by the Centre for Policy Studies, written by Christina Odone, which seeks to portray the UK's state-funded faith schools as inclusive and 'under attack' from hostile secularists.
The Church of England and those running other faith schools have previously tried to champion them as having a good track record of inclusion. However, although attempting to defend faith schools, the findings of the latest report suggest that local authorities are approaching very small numbers of faith schools to place vulnerable Looked After Children. It also found that faith schools were turning away more than one in twenty of Looked After Children when local authorities did ask if the schools would take them.
Pointing to the recent expansion of state-funded faith schools and academies by the government, and to the powers which state-funded faith schools continue to have over admissions policies and employment, the BHA said that today's report was driven by ideology, and reflected a lack of concern for a future of inclusive education.
The report seeks to paint a picture of a Government which is persecuting faith schools in the face of public support for them. It begins by saying: "THE WITCH HUNT IS ON. A Government obsessed with phoney egalitarianism and control freakery is aligning itself with the strident secularist lobby to threaten the future of faith schools in Britain."
It ends by accusing the Secretary of State Ed Balls of "bullying and humiliations, plots and threats."
The BHA points out that the state funded faith schools which the report seeks to promote differ from state funded community schools in that they are allowed by law to discriminate in their admissions policies and are allowed by law to discriminate in their employment policies.
They also teach their own syllabus of Religious Education without the regulated syllabuses that apply to community schools.
Andrew Copson, Director of Education at the BHA said: "Our aim should be for all state funded schools to admit and include children regardless of their religious or non-religious backgrounds, so that they can learn from and with each other in a mixed environment".
Jonathan Bartley, director of the thinktank Ekklesia also raised concerns about the report. "The report suggests that the critics of faith schools are primarily die-hard secularists. Nothing could be further from the truth. The report fails to address of even mention the many concerns expressed by Christians, teaching unions, and those of disability groups who are continually pointing out that many faith schools are ill-equipped to take children with special needs, and have failed to embrace an ethos of inclusion.
"By focusing on the few hard-liners who are ideologically opposed to faith schools, it makes few, if any constructive suggestions for change, and simply serves to further polarise the debate around faith schools."