‘Extremist groups’ will not be allowed to run free schools, the Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove MP has said today. The BHA has welcomed his assurance, but cautioned that further detail is needed.
Michael Gove told MPs on the cross-party Commons education committee: ‘There are concerns about inappropriate faith groups using this legislation to push their own agenda, but we have been working on the regulations to ensure that we don’t have any extremist groups taking over schools.’ The Secretary of State additionally assured the committee that there would be no creationism taught as part of a school’s science curriculum.
Gove also told MPs that he ‘recognised that there are some people who explicitly do not want their children educated in a faith-based setting’ and encouraged atheists to start their own schools.
BHA chief executive Andrew Copson said:
‘We are pleased that the Secretary of State has finally responded to some of the concerns that humanist MPs and peers have raised throughout the Academies Act’s passage through Parliament. We welcome his assurances in relation to the dangers of the influence of fundamentalist religious groups in our school system.’
‘However, there is nothing in the Academies Act itself that will prevent children being exposed to religious indoctrination, nor to stop any particular group from applying to run a state-funded free school. We want to see the government introduce robust safeguards, such as legislative change and statutory guidance, to support today’s assurances.’
Commenting on the question of “atheist free schools”, Mr Copson continued:
‘The BHA campaigns for totally inclusive schools for children of all faiths and none. In our view, many inclusive community schools are already more or less humanist in their ethos and values. If compulsory collective worship was ended and RE became universally objective, fair and balanced, community schools would indeed be humanist in all but name, open and accommodating to all.’
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