Open letter calls for Education Secretary to keep faith school admissions cap

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A group of religious leaders, parliamentarians, education experts, and prominent public figures have signed a joint letter calling on the new Education Secretary Damian Hinds to reconsider a proposal to allow fully segregated intakes in new and existing religious free schools. The letter, organised by Humanists UK, states that removing the so-called 50 per cent cap on religious selection betrays the duty of schools to be ‘open, inclusive, diverse, and integrated’.

In 2016, the Government consulted on proposals to drop the current requirement that all new religious free schools keep at least half of their places open to all local children, irrespective of religion or belief. This is despite the evidence that the so-called 50 per cent cap on religious selection has significantly boosted integration in religious schools and improved the fair access of local families to local schools.

Whilst the former Education Secretary, Justine Greening, was understood to have reconsidered the proposals following extensive campaigning by Humanists UK and its supporters, the new Education Secretary is now reportedly going ahead with the proposals. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/24943)

Among the signatories to the joint letter are former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, President of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, former government integration tsar Ted Cantle, the General Secretaries of the National Education Union Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson, and a number of high-profile authors, academics, and entertainers.

The letter reads:

We represent a diverse range of educational, religious, political, academic, and other stakeholders from across British society, and our views on the merits or otherwise of faith schools are diverse too. However, we are all in agreement that our state schools, of whatever character, should be open, inclusive, diverse, and integrated, and never exclusive, monocultural, or segregated.

The Government rightly identifies the promotion of mutual understanding and tolerance for those of different religions and beliefs as one of the most important roles for schools. As we are all aware, children are blind to the differences and immune to the prejudices that so often divide society. The duty of the education system, therefore, should not be to highlight and entrench such differences in the eyes and minds of young people, but to emphasise instead the common values that we all share.

Removing the 50 per cent cap on religious selection at faith-based free schools runs entirely counter to this ambition. It is difficult to bring to mind a more divisive policy, or one more deleterious to social cohesion and respect, than one which allows schools to label children at the start of their lives with certain beliefs and then divide them up on that basis.  

The Department for Education is yet to respond formally to its consultation on these proposals – opposed by 80 per cent of the public, including 67 per cent of Catholics and 71 per cent of Christians overall. All the evidence shows categorically that the cap has achieved its stated aim. It is not too late to maintain it.

 Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: "People from across the political spectrum, representing a range of different religions and beliefs, are united on this one point: whatever your views on faith schools themselves, it cannot be right for taxpayer-funded schools to divide and discriminate against children. That is the principle that underpins this letter, and it ought to be the principle that underpins our education system too."

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