The Liberal Democrats have become the first mainstream political party in Britain to admit that many faith schools currently pursue unnecessary discriminatory practices in admissions and employment, and to pledge to challenge them.
At their Spring Conference yesterday (Saturday 6th March 2009), the party voted to put the onus on existing publicly funded schools of a religious character to be inclusive or to have their funding withdrawn, while new faith schools would not be allowed to select pupils on grounds of religion or belief.
The party also voted to end "the opt out from employment and equalities legislation for staff in faith schools, except those responsible for religious education".
The Liberal Democrats are calling for all faith schools to be required to teach about other beliefs in a balanced way, something that most do not currently have to do.
The vote was hailed as a ‘breakthrough moment’ by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, the Chair of Accord, which campaigns to reform the way faith schools operate and to achieve universal standards of openness and inclusion for all schools in Britain.
Dr Romain declared: "The political tide is turning. It is a recognition that it is not in the best interest of children or society at large for faith schools to use pupil selection and staff employment practices that are discriminatory and divisive."
He continued: "It is vital for the social harmony of Britain that schools build bridges between different faith communities, not isolate them from each other.
"Accord welcomes the bravery of the Liberal Democrats in being the first political party to put the national good above sectarian interests."
He added: "We urge Labour and the Conservatives to rethink their current faith schools policy which amounts to a system of religious segregation and which the next generation will have cause to regret."
Accord is a coalition of both religious and non-religious organisations and individuals campaigning for an end to discrimination in school staffing and admissions. The coalition also campaigns for a fair and balanced RE curriculum and the removal of the requirement for compulsory collective worship.
Members of the coalition include teachers’ union ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers), religion and society think-tank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association.