Mainstream religious leaders unite to defend faith schools


Mainstream religious groups and leaders in education have rejected calls by a new group which is demanding an end to the selection of pupils and staff in faith schools on the grounds of their religion.

The group, named 'Accord' which is being officially launched today, is chaired by Rabbi Jonathan Romain, the minister of Maidenhead Synagogue. He said: "Our aim is for every single school to welcome children from all backgrounds. It is a simple goal, strongly supported by the public, educationalists and students."

Founding member Jonathan Bartley, editor of Ekklesia, said: "There are faith schools that are 90% or even 100% funded by the tax payer and yet they only cater, or prioritise 5% of the population. Often faith schools take pupils only from their own faith or even from their own denomination within a faith."

He added that there were concerns around the new rules regarding recruitment of staff. For schools to advertise for a someone of a particular faith means that "90% of the population have been ruled out straight away. "If they can actually recruit from 100% rather than 10% of those available they will get a better calibre of teacher."

Accord has the support of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Ekklesia, Hindu Academy, Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, Woman Against Fundamentalism, the Socialist Educational Association and at least 18 academics, clergy and writers - among them Professor Steve Jones, University College, London, Rabbi David Gldber OBE, author Philip Pullman, Polly Toynbee, founder of the British Humanist Association. For a full list see notes at the end of this article).

A coalition of religious figures representing more than 6,000 Church of England, Catholic, Methodist, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu state-funded schools have issued the following statement in response to Accord's comments

They pointed out that a greater number of families than ever are choosing to send their children to faith schools in the maintained sector this September, and stated:

"Faith communities entirely refute the allegation that faith schools are discriminatory, or that they represent a divisive force within British society.

"We stand as representatives of schools who work tirelessly to not only provide high quality education in some of the most challenging contexts in the country, but to nurture religious values of respect and care for others in young people. This latest attack, based on unspecified 'research', does a disservice to the huge value that faith schools add to our state education sector and the extent of appreciation that parents and students have for these schools.

"European Human Rights legislation guarantees the rights of parents to schooling compatible with their religious and philosophical beliefs. We believe that parents and students should have the right to choose the type of environment in which they will flourish academically, socially and spiritually. We believe in faith schools for a number of reasons:

"Faith schools are open to applications from students of other faiths and none. While oversubscribed faith schools can give priority to students from relevant religious groups, many will also include children from non-religious backgrounds and other faith groups too. Whatever the admissions policy, national and local religious authorities exercise constant vigilance to ensure that the process is conducted in a transparent, open and accountable way.

"Faith schools consistently deliver excellent academic results, within a caring atmosphere that nurtures the whole student as an individual. We are not aware of any robust large-scale research that supports allegations that these results are due to 'cherry picking' certain types of students on non-faith grounds. Indeed, the intake of state-funded faith schools often reflects a broader ethnic range than comprehensive schools in the same area. Faith schools ­ like all schools ­ work to realise the potential of each and every student, whatever their background.

"All state-funded faith schools teach about and inculcate a sense of social responsibility, usually within an ethnically diverse context. They nurture an understanding and appreciation of other cultures, promote good citizenship and give young people the chance to practice this in varied ways through the curriculum. They are frequently commended by Ofsted for achieving these goals ­ in addition to their high academic standards.

"Faith schools develop best practice that supports community cohesion in terms of sharing their resources, serving as hubs for other community groups, and generating social capital.

"Faith communities will go out of their way to support those suffering from hardship and assist those who request financial help. Methodologies which purport to assess the socio-economic make-up of pupils at state-funded faith schools are highly questionable. For example, the cost of school meals for those attending faith schools from poorer backgrounds may be subsidised by members of the faith community. Accordingly, statistics on free school meals do not provide a reliable or accurate picture of the financial circumstances of faith school pupils.

"The staff teams of faith schools are diverse, with members drawn from all faiths and backgrounds. This diversity is what helps make faith schools as vibrant and stimulating as any other school environment. The new regulations relating to certain categories of employment are not discriminatory ­ they are there to enable faith schools to maintain parental choice by developing their distinctive ethos.

"In September 2007, all the main faith school providers in England signed up to a shared vision for promoting community cohesion through schools with a religious character. In 'Faith in the System,' the Government and religious groups confirmed their commitment to continue to work together - and with schools with and without a religious character - to improve the life chances of children, to build bridges to greater mutual trust and understanding and to contribute to a just and cohesive society.

"It is to this vision to which, between us, we have been dedicated for up to 200 years. It is a vision shared by growing numbers of parents and students across the country. As thousands of students are starting a new school year, it is disappointing that some commentators see fit to attempt an inaccurate character assassination of some of the brightest success stories of our education system."

The statement is signed by:

Revd Janina Ainsworth, Chief Education Officer, Church of England Board of Education
Henry Grunwald, QC, President, Board of Deputies of British Jews and Chair, Jewish Leadership Council
Oona Stannard, Chief Executive and Director, Catholic Education Service For England And Wales
Graham Russell, Education Secretary in the Connexional team, Methodist Church
Dr Mohamed Mukadam, Chair, Association of Muslim Schools UK & Eire
Muslim Council of Britain
Dr Indarjit Singh, Director, Network of Sikh Organisations
Nitesh Gor, I-Foundation
Hindu Forum of Britain
Hindu Council UK

29 August 2008


1. staff employment regulations in faith school

Schools with a designated faith character are able to ask for faith commitment as one of the criteria used in making staff appointments, so that the faith character of the school may be effectively maintained.

In Voluntary Controlled and Foundation schools, governors may want to ask how potential headteachers will maintain and develop the religious character and ethos of the school. This does not necessarily mean that only members of that faith can be appointed to these leadership roles ­ for instance, there are VC Christian schools where the head is a Muslim, or of no faith and many VA Jewish schools where the head is of another faith or of no faith.

When appointing members of the teaching staff, governors of Voluntary Aided schools can include faith commitment as part of the criteria for the role. In practice, this is usually only the case for the leadership team, where the responsibility for enhancing the faith ethos of the school is a major aspect of their role.

For the appointment of teaching assistants and other non-teaching staff, if Voluntary Aided schools and Academies can establish a Genuine Occupational Requirement, they may be able to reserve the post for those with a faith commitment. This is particularly important in the case of higher level teaching assistants, who may be teaching large groups or whole classes of students.

2. Membership of Accord

Members of Accord to date are: Baroness Tessa Blackstone, Minister for Education (1997-2001) and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Greenwich; Professor Colin Blakemore, FRS; Reverend Jeremy Chadd, Vicar of St Chad's Church, Sunderland' Professor Bernard Crick; Rabbi David Goldberg OBE; Lord Graham of Edmonton, politician. Professor AC Grayling, philosopher and author; Savitri Hensman, Writer on Christian social ethics and theology; Sarah Hill, Global relief and development worker. Founder member of Accepting Evangelicals; Theo Hobson, theologian, author and commentator; Reverend Chris Howson, Anglican priest, Bradford; Sunny Hundal, journalist and blogger; Professor Steve Jones, University College, London; Miriam Karlin, actress; Rev Richard Kirker, Hari Kunzru, author; Rev Iain McDonald, Minister of Southernhay United Reformed Church, Exeter; Fiona Millar, journalist; Phillip Pullman, author; Claire Rayner, journalist; Reverend Professor Christopher Rowland, Dean Ireland Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture, Oxford; Polly Toynbee, President of the British Humanist Association and journalist.

See also 1 September 2008 Catholic Education Service rejects 'spurious' claims of group opposing faith schools

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