London, UK - SEPT 28, 2009 A prestigious new prize is being offered that recognises the achievements of primary and secondary schools which celebrate diversity of religious and non-religious beliefs.
Created by Accord, a coalition of groups united in a desire to reform faith schools (of which the think-tank Ekklesia was a founder member) the awards are to acknowledge work in schools and the wider community that goes beyond legal requirements on inclusion and equality.
The awards are open to all state-funded schools, including faith schools, and will be judged by a highly respected and experienced panel of experts:
· Lord (Kenneth) Baker, Secretary of State for Education and Science 1986-1989.
· Baroness (Kishwer) Falkner, Liberal Democrat Spokesman on the Ministry of Justice in the Lords and expert on human rights and multiculturalism.
· The Rt Rev'd Professor Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh and current Chair of the Scottish Arts Council.
· Reverend Professor Christopher Rowland, Theologian, Oxford University
· Polly Toynbee, journalist and social commentator.
The panel will be chaired by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, who also chairs Accord.
The judges will be looking for schools that have an ethos that celebrates inclusion and that pride themselves on building links within and between communities.
The winning school will be announced in the press.
Launching the awards, Accord Chair Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said: "Many people sit back and complain about the state of our schools. Accord has decided to do the reverse - actively seek out and reward those that are inclusive, tolerant and transparent.
"Not all of Britain is 'broken' - there are also many examples of remarkable success and cohesion - so it's time to praise those schools that work hard to build bridges between the different faith and ethnic communities."
Polly Toynbee, one of the judges of the awards, said: "We need to celebrate schools that find ways to bring people together by promoting thought and ideas, encouraging debate across cultural barriers, opening minds and exploring beliefs with tolerance and imagination."
Former Conservative Secretary for Education, Lord Baker, who has also agreed to serve as one of the judges said: "One of the ways in which harmony, understanding and tolerance will be promoted in many of our towns and cities is if children of all races and creeds learnt alongside each other, had lunch together and played together at school. The Accord Awards will help to highlight the best examples of such inclusivity, tolerance and transparency and I am glad to have been asked to be one of the judges."
Jonathan Bartley, co-director of Ekklesia said: "We hope in particular that church schools will put themselves forward for the awards. This is a real chance to move beyond the unconstructive stand- off between 'pro' and 'anti' faith schools camps, and work together to find examples of best practice from which we can all learn."