Government criticised for 'trying to brush over inequality caused by faith school discrimination'

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The Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education has criticised the Government for the partiality of its equality impact assessment released earlier this month, and its consequent decision to go ahead with financial support for the creation of new voluntary aided faith schools.The assessment follows an announcement in May this year, when the Government decided to row back on a decade of national policy that sought to ensure new faith schools were less religiously selective.

Instead, it announced funding for the opening of new voluntary aided schools that can operate a 100 per cent religiously selective admissions policy, increasing discrimination and segregation in the education system. The Accord Coalition believes the new impact assessment downplays the disadvantage and division new discriminatory schools are likely to cause.

Commenting on the announcement, Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Rev Stephen Terry, said "New discriminatory and segregationist faith schools undermine equality of opportunity and community cohesion. It is hard to see how the Government could have responded differently and not admitted to the harm its policy will cause. It is however, disappointing to see it display such bias and contempt for the promotion of cohesion and equality, in order to try and retrospectively justify its damaging course of action.Opening more discriminatory schools is an historic error. The impact assessment stands as a record of the extent to which the current Government is trying to turn a blind eye to the consequences of its policy."

The impact assessment:

  • fails to address in any meaningful way the impact of more religiously segregated schools upon community cohesion, despite school segregation being frequently cited as a major threat to integration (including by the government’s current integration Green Paper)
  • downplays the extent to which pupils with special educational needs are underrepresented in the faith school sector by comparing the inclusivity of voluntary aided faith schools on this measure with that of all state funded schools as a whole, rather than versus non-voluntary aided schools
  • argues the impact from opening these new schools that will be able to religiously discriminate in the employment of all their teachers should be considered in the case of each individual school, rather than overall
  • fails to acknowledge the evidence that the stronger exam performance of religiously selective schools is shown to be due to cream skimming and instead concludes opening more voluntary aided schools will ‘simply’ increase the number of high performing schools overall. By doing this, the government has turned a blind eye to greater socio-economic division and inequality its decision can be expected to cause
  • treats people with an Asian ethnicity (60 per cent of the world's population) as all having the same ethnicity, so disguising the indirect racial discrimination particularly experienced by people of South Asian heritage from religiously selective Christian schools

In another apparent indication of disregard for the public sector equality duty, the Government’s impact assessment has been produced many months after its voluntary aided faith school policy was announced, said the Accord Coalition. Equality impact assessments are designed to help government ensure their policies or projects meet their equality duties and, as such, are usually carried out before a policy is decided, not after.

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