London 2 June 2009. A letter from members of nine religious traditions calling for an end to religious discrimination in schools has been published in the Times today (Tuesday 2 June). The plea coincides with the first day of the Equality Bill’s committee stage, which campaigners believe could prove crucial in the struggle to make schools more inclusive.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, who is a signatory to the letter and the chair of Accord said:
“One of the main aims of the Bill is to promote equality between people of different religions and beliefs, but unless it challenges the opt-outs given to faith schools it will fail in its task. We decided to write this letter from the religious conviction that segregating children by their parents’ beliefs cannot be the right way for state schools to operate.”
Unless the Bill is amended it will leave untouched the wide exemptions given to faith schools from equalities law on admissions and employment. This means that oversubscribed faith schools will still be able to reserve all of their places for those of the same religion and schools will continue to appoint, promote and dismiss teachers and other staff according to their beliefs.
In recent years faith schools have also come under increased criticism because of concerns that they undermine community cohesion and “cream off” more socially advantaged pupils.
Notes to Editors
1. More on the Accord coalition: www.accordcoalition.org.uk
2. The religion and society think-tank Ekklesia is one of the founding members of the Accord coalition. Ekklesia is an independent, not-for-profit Christian think-tank and news briefing service promoting transformative theological ideas and solutions in the face of global challenges. See: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/about/about.shtml
3. Accord ("believing in children, learning together") was launched in September 2008 to bring together religious and non-religious organisations and individuals campaigning for community schooling and for an end to religious discrimination in school staffing and admissions.
4. The coalition also campaigns for a fair and balanced RE curriculum; for inclusive, inspiring and stimulating assemblies in place of compulsory acts of worship; and for a single inspection regime for Religious Education, Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE) and Citizenship.
For further information or comment on the letter in the Times and the work of Accord, please contact Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain on 07770 722 893 or Alex Kennedy on 0207 462 4990 / 07976 367 266. For comment from Ekklesia, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Simon Barrow on 07904 376514.