Poll – Over two thirds concerned that Academies Bill will use public money to promote religion

A new ICM poll commissioned by the BHA has found that 72% of the public are concerned that the Academies Bill could lead to taxpayers’ money being used to promote religion. The figure includes over a third (35%) of the public who said that they were “very concerned”. The poll also found that 67% think religious Academies should be required to teach pupils about other beliefs, including non-religious ones.

The poll is released as the BHA briefs MPs ahead of the Bill’s “second reading” in the House of Commons on Monday 19th July. It follows the government’s acknowledgement in the Lords last week that there is a risk that creationism could be taught in religious Academies.

Over 300 ‘faith schools’, including a small number of fee-paying schools, have registered their interest in converting to Academy status. Religious Academies created as a result of the Bill would be free from local authority control, allowing them to set their own admissions and employment policies and change the lengths of terms and school days. The Bill as it stands would not require these new Academies to follow the national curriculum.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

“These results demonstrate that a majority of the public share our concerns about religious Academies. The message from this poll is very clear – there is no public appetite to increase the power and influence of religious groups in our schools. The state-funded education system should not be viewed or used as a vehicle for religious organisations to promote their beliefs.”

“Time and time again parents tell us that they want an inclusive local community school for their children. By rushing this Bill through Parliament the governments risks giving religious groups, some of whom hold extreme views, a permanent foothold in our education system. We urge the government to respond to this high level of public concern by amending the Bill to include greater safeguards against undue religious influence.”

Notes

For further comment or information, contact Andrew Copson on 07534 248 596 or 020 7079 3583 or [email protected].

The poll asked two questions:  “If an academy were set up by a religious organisation, would you be very, quite, not very or not at all concerned that public money may be used to promote a particular religion or belief?” and “Do you think it should, or should not be a requirement for a religious organisation which runs an academy to teach pupils not just about their own religious beliefs but also about other beliefs, including non-religious ones?”

The questions were put to a representative sample of 2,000 GB adults between 9th and 11th July 2010.

Read the full results of the poll.

At the Lords “report stage” of the Bill, Lady Massey raised concerns about the risk of creationism and being taught as fact in religious Academies. Responding for the Government, Lord Hill said: “I share her concerns about creationism, but one of the core aims of the [Academies] policy is precisely that the Secretary of State should not dictate to academies what they should teach … I fully accept that if you trust people things do go wrong, but that is the direction that we want to try to go in.” See Hansard HL Col 299 (7th July 2010).

Read the BHA’s briefing for the Commons Second Reading of the Academies Bill.