From the British Humanist Society:
The future of social cohesion in our country is under threat like never before
The principle of integrated education is under attack like never before in this country following the Government announcement that it will introduce a new generation of state schools that can religiously discriminate against children for all of their places.
Since 2007, a 50% cap on religiously selective admissions had been in place for all new ‘faith’ schools – something we had fought for under Labour and had extended under Michael Gove.
But now the Government is pushing for absolute selection by religion, at the behest of lobbying from the Catholic Church in particular.
Despite the Government’s rhetoric that this is about ‘choice’, all the evidence is clear that religious selection in fact reduces the ability of parents to see their children attend good local schools and worsens segregation along religious, ethnic, and socio-economic lines in their local areas. In some parts of the country, they make it next to impossible for non-religious parents to send their child to any schools at all in their local area, leaving them with long distances to travel, at great expense, during work hours.
The plans are already developed and we don’t have much time to act. We must oppose them now and we must do so in the strongest terms possible. We need your help.
Please email your MP to ask them to oppose the Government’s plan to drop the 50% cap on faith-based admissions. Help us fight for an inclusive education system in which children from all backgrounds can learn together, play together, and grow up together. Join us in defending a vision of Britain that is pluralistic, open, and non-discriminatory.
A template letter is provided, which will be automatically emailed to your MP. The letter is personalised so that it matches what we currently know about which party they are in. But to make your letter even more effective you can edit it yourself. Here are some examples:
* As a young person… describe your recent experience of school. Was it inclusive? Did you mix with children from different backgrounds?
* Having attended a ‘faith’ school yourself… how diverse was it? Was it religiously selective? If so, what effect did that have?
* As a parent, carer, or grandparent… What kind of school do your grandchildren go to? Do you want them to mix with children from different backgrounds?
* As a teacher or governor… does your school select? What is your view on the impact religious segregation in schools can have?
And the following is my email (based in part on the BHA suggested one):
Dear Mrs Whately,
As one of your constituents I would ask you to oppose the recently announced plans to allow both new and existing religious free schools to select all of their places with reference to religion. The requirement that these schools keep at least half of their places open to local children, irrespective of religion or belief, is important and dropping it will send a dangerous message about the importance of integration in this country. This is especially important following the results of the 2011 census in which over 14 million people reported themselves as having no religion at all, almost half as many as those reporting themselves as Christian, and the second largest group in the country from a religious perspective.
Religion (all religions) are clearly divisive, it is built into the very fabric of their belief system, that they (and only they) have the one true path to salvation. Indeed, last year, David Cameron gave a speech from a school in Birmingham on countering extremism in which he passionately defended the current 50% rule, and said the following:
"It cannot be right…that people can grow up and go to school and hardly ever come into meaningful contact with people from other backgrounds and faiths. That doesn’t foster a sense of shared belonging and understanding – it can drive people apart."
I hope you agree that he was right. The available evidence strongly suggests that religious selection in schools simply entrenches religious segregation in wider society, and almost always leads to ethnic and socio-economic segregation. One of the justifications being used for 100% selection is that it excludes the Catholic Education Service from opening new schools as they claim it is against canon law to adhere to the 50% rule. If this is the case then why do Catholic schools in Scotland and internationally not use religious selection, as well the overwhelming majority of Catholic schools in England in the independent sector?
Examples of what religious selection in schools might achieve can be gleaned from recent press reports; the fundamentalist Jewish sect that does it's very best to prevent women getting an education, Muslim schools in Birmingham that have been exposed as little more than indoctrination centres for extreme Islamic views and Sir Peter Vardy's Emmanuel Schools Foundation which "teaches" children the anti-scientific and creationist belief that the world was formed a mere 6000 years ago when the available evidence clearly indicates an age in the region of 5 billion.
The historic and ongoing effect of religious selection in the education system means children get exposed to a limited set of viewpoints, it is (as I say above) divisive and it clearly denies local children the opportunity to attend schools local to them simply because they have a different religious belief. Clearly new measures (not less as the Prime Minister's plans suggest) are required and should be introduced in addition to the cap, not instead of it. There is simply no long term solution to the segregation in our education system that does not involve at least some move towards more inclusive admissions. Even Prince Charles, in his role as "Defender of the Faiths" recognises the multi-faith nature of British society and the need for inclusivity, a view that appears to be at odds with Theresa May's current plans.
Despite the Government’s stated view that this is about ‘choice’, all the evidence is clear that religious selection in fact reduces the ability of parents to see their children attend good local schools and worsens segregation along religious, ethnic, and socio-economic lines in their local areas. In some parts of the country, they make it next to impossible for non-religious parents to send their child to any schools at all in their local area, leaving them with long distances to travel, at great expense, during work hours.
So, whatever your views on ‘faith’ schools more generally, I urge you to oppose these proposals and encourage the Government to reconsider, calling instead for schools to be open and inclusive, catering for all local children regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs. Creating closed religious enclaves in schools, whether they be Catholic, Muslim, or otherwise, is irresponsible and is bad for integration. If our increasingly diverse society is to be an integrated and socially cohesive one, there is only one way forward.