EKKLESIA, LONDON: A new coalition called Accord, which will be launched officially on Monday 1 September 2008, is calling on Children, Schools and Families Secretary of State Ed Balls to stop publicly-funded faith schools from discriminating against students and teachers on the grounds of their beliefs. **
Accord has been established by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, the British Humanist Association (BHA) and a range of other organisations and individuals - including clergy, academics and public figures - to seek to build a new consensus for fairness and equality in schooling and schools policy.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, the minister of Maidenhead Synagogue, who chairs the new alliance, emphasises the diversity of its members: "Accord has been able to bring together such a wide range of organisations and individuals because our aim is for every school to welcome children from all backgrounds. It is a simple goal, strongly supported by the public, educationalists and students."
He continued: "As a rabbi I am committed to Jewish values and to passing them on to my children. But as a rabbi I also understand that no one gains if this is done in such a way that it damages good community relations, as in separate religious schools."
Jonathan Bartley, co-director of Ekklesia, said: "The case for schooling that builds bridges rather than boxes, is one which can unite people of different beliefs and backgrounds - including a growing number of Christians. By seeking to control admissions in schools which are funded almost entirely by the taxpayer, the Church is seen to be a self- serving club rather than a body fully committed to care for the community around it."
The launch of Accord coincides with new rules coming into place on 1 September that make it legal for voluntary controlled schools to reserve the headship for those of one belief only, and for voluntary aided schools to discriminate against non-teaching staff on the basis of their beliefs.
Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said: "We need schools which embrace the diversity in our communities, not schools which divide pupils and staff by faith. All children - regardless of their religion, culture, and family income - should have equal access to the best possible education in a good local school. Allowing schools to pick and choose pupils is not the best way to achieve this or to create young adults with the confidence and personal skills to live and work in our vibrant multi-cultural society."
Accord will be holding a launch and press conference in London on Monday 1 September. Its website will go 'live' then.
** This is an abbreviated version of a press release which had been embargoed until 1 September. Unfortunately, one paper chose for its own reasons to break the embargo and other news stories will now appear this weekend. We regret the inconvenience caused to the great majority who respected the professional protocol. Full details will be made available on Monday.
1. Ekklesia is a think-tank, founded in 2002, which promotes transformative theological ideas in public life.
2. It was listed amongst the top 20 think-tanks in Britain in 2005, by the Independent newspaper. It has been profiled by London's Evening Standard and the Daily Telegraph.
3. Ekklesia is independent of all church denominations, and operates on a self-financing, not- for-profit basis. It has one of most visited religious websites in the UK, and raised over £250,000 last year for peace, justice and development work.