The winner of a new award encouraging good community schooling will be announced on Monday. Created by the Accord Coalition, it is seeking out and rewarding schools that are "inclusive, tolerant and transparent".
The award, launched last November by the coalition of religious groups, humanists, trade unions, academics and human rights campaigners, is open to all state-funded schools and has been judged by a panel led by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain - as well as a well-known secular journalist, a former bishop, and a senior professor of biblical studies, among others.
Accord wants all schools to be open in their admissions and employment policies, to teach a balanced and informative curriculum on religion and belief, and to have assemblies rooted in inspiring diversity.
The Coalition was set up particularly to press for the reform of religious foundation schools ("faith schools"), which are at present allowed by law to discriminate on religious grounds as to who they will admit and who they will employ.
Accord - whose founders were the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the British Humanist Association (BHA) and the Christian think-tank Ekklesia - says change needs to be based on good practice as well as a change in policy.
The ground-breaking new award seeks especially to highlight and honour those who are setting a good example - whether they are fully state run, voluntarily aided or controlled.
The inaugural Accord prize affirms diversity of both religious and non-religious understanding within Britain's taxpayer funded schools.
Schools which acknowledge that not all pupils come from a faith background - and tailor their religious education classes accordingly - should be recognised and celebrated, it declares.
The award, whose winner will be unveiled in North London on Monday 1 March, is also intended as an encouragement to those who keep their gates open to all and enable pupils and teachers of different backgrounds to learn together face-to-face, rather than just in books or in theory.
Accord's aims state: "In a pluralist, multi-cultural society, the state should promote tolerance and recognition of different values and beliefs. Given the dangers of segregation and the importance of community cohesion, we need schools that welcome all and are committed to non-discrimination. Schools should promote a culture of questioning, of knowledge, of respect and of exploration of values, where students develop their own identities and sense of place in the world."
The Coalition, whose supporters include Christians, humanists and atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others, believes all state-funded schools should:
* Operate admissions policies that take no account of pupils’ – or their parents’ – religion or beliefs.
* Operate recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief.
* Follow an objective, fair and balanced syllabus for education about religious and non-religious beliefs – whether determined by their local authority or by any future national syllabus or curriculum for RE.
* Be made accountable under a single inspection regime for RE, Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE) and Citizenship.
* Provide their pupils with inclusive, inspiring and stimulating assemblies in place of compulsory acts of worship.
Guardian newspaper journalist and religious affairs correspondent Raizat Butt has recently visited schools on the Accord prize shortlist - and her report can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/ya7n4tf