Proper faith schools discussion needed

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Commenting on the Church of England Board of Education head's defence of discrimination in faith schools policy, Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, said.:

"It is a gross distortion of Christian ethics to argue that privileging one's own and pushing out others is either necessary or desirable. Indeed it flatly contradicts the teaching of Christianity's founder.

"Unfair discrimination is not a Christian value in public life, and nor is the kind of dishonesty which some parents have to resort to in order to get their children past the local vicar and into a school where places are reserved for church children - even though the school is funded by the general taxpayer. No amount of bluster can avoid these realities.

"The accusation that those of us arguing for faith school reform are ignoring the evidence is the reverse of the factual situation. The Church of England has dismissed a whole series of independent reports that point in the direction of change, sometimes before the evidence has even been set out.

"What has become increasingly clear is that, sadly, the arguments of some who oppose faith schools reform, whether religious or non-religious, appear to be based on prejudice rather than a reasonable consideration of the facts and an attempt to ensure fairness for all.

"However, thankfully the overall debate is moving away from rigid pro- and anti-positions towards new possibilities of positive change.

"Faith schools providers also have a clear duty to engage properly with the views of the public, parents and independent researchers - because they are running taxpayer-funded services. They should be accountable and honest in the same way as we expect our elected representatives to be."