THE BLOG

Clergy Press for Faith Schools Reform

02/09/2014 16:51 BST | Updated 02/11/2014 10:59 GMT

A new alliance of clergy across all denominations and faiths - Anglican, Catholic and other churches (Methodist, United Reformed, Unitarian, Quaker), along with the Hindu, Muslim and Jewish faiths - have come together to call for an end to discrimination in pupil admissions, teacher employment, as well as broadening the curriculum to make it obligatory for all children to study the major faiths in Britain.

We all speak from a position of deep faith, but feel the way faith schools currently operate is an affront to religious values of openness and equality. In no other part of public life or state-funded institutions can you be selected or turned away because of your religion: not in hospitals, libraries, police force, the civil service or anywhere else. It is illegal and morally unthinkable. Yet that is exactly what happens with state-funded faith schools

It is not good for society to ghettoise its future citizens so that they grow up segregated. It is not good for the children who grow up in an "us and them" culture; and in the very place where they should be learning about tolerance and respect. It is not good for faith - because it becomes tarnished by discrimination and is seen as divisive - whereas it should be positive and welcoming and teach people to love your neighbour as yourself, not hide your children away from him

What is so striking is that schools can only select children according to their faith by having a specific exemption from the Equality Act - exemption from equality - what does that say about religious values!

Faith schools can also discriminate in employment, selecting teachers by their religion - that too is not allowed in other areas of public life, while it is both morally wrong and limits the educational horizons of the children.

Another concern is the curriculum and the ability of faith schools to teach only their own faith - whereas they should be preparing children to emerge into multi-faith Britain and teaching them about all the major religion, even if they do more on one of them.

We are therefore urging the political parties to pledge in their manifestos to change the law in the following ways

1.To work towards ending the anomaly by which state-funded schools are legally able to distinguish between children on religious grounds in their admissions procedure.

2. In the meantime, to bring all state schools in line with the system under which Free Schools operate, limiting the number of children that can be selected on the grounds of their faith to 50% of the annual intake.

3. To close the legal loophole which currently allows schools to refuse to employ teachers on the basis of their faith.

4. To recognise that removing the duty of Ofsted to inspect how schools promoted community cohesion was a mistake and should be re-instated

5. To ensure that all children learn about the full range of faiths and belief systems in Britain by adding Religious Education to the National Curriculum.

A growing number of parents are resentful of children being denied entry to local schools because of faith restrictions, while an increasing number of clergy are realising that faith institutions should not be promoting division but encouraging social harmony.