Faith schools - letter for Liberal Democrats

 On Friday, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu school providers published the following letter in the Guardian on the eve of the Lib Dem conference in Harrogate.

Tomorrow, the Liberal Democrats will debate education policy, including their position on the country's 7,000 schools with religious character. For the sake of the pupils at these schools and the contribution these schools make to the well-being of society, the debate needs to be informed by facts and not conjecture.

At a time when there is a genuine concern about societal breakdown, so-called 'faith schools' are not merely teaching citizenship, tolerance, cohesion and respect as academic subjects, but living them as part of the very ethos of their schools. Just this week, the 'Shared Futures' schools linking project has run the latest of its successful programmes in Kilburn and Hampstead, North London, where children from a range of faiths (and no faith) came together to learn from each other. Shared Futures has already brought together many hundreds of children to share common values, winning praise from Ofsted by showing how faith schools can be at the vanguard of promoting community cohesion.

At the heart of tomorrow's debate is a question about parental choice, which has been central to education policy in this country for over 65 years. We believe that parents and students should continue to have the right to choose the type of school in which they can flourish academically, socially and spiritually. With faith schools making up over a third of the state schools in the UK, millions of parents are choosing them and only in cases where schools are full to capacity can faith be used as a criterion for allocating places. The idea of removing one of the means by which these schools of religious character protect and enhance their valued ethos would be a perverse and unjust way of responding to the increasing demand for places in such schools.

Tomorrow, delegates at the Liberal Democrat party conference will have a choice of supporting the heritage and future of these schools, or supporting a policy that would damage precisely that which helps make them so successful. We hope that they choose to back the clear consensus of public opinion ­ as reflected in the Guardian's own poll published earlier this week, which showed that 69 per cent of those with school-age children support a religious ethos in schools, or last week's BBC poll which showed that almost two-thirds of people said the law "should respect and be influenced by UK religious values".

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

Source: CES

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