BHA calls for tougher powers to curb extremism as Gove announces first religious ‘free schools’

The BHA has warned that teaching in some ‘free schools’ could be dominated by ‘myth and misinformation’ after it was revealed that seven of the first 16 schools to open next year will be run by religious groups.

The list published today by the education secretary Michael Gove MP includes two Jewish, one Hindu, one Sikh, one Anglican and two other ‘free schools’ that will have a ‘Christian ethos’. All of the the schools plan to open in September 2011.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘The BHA has continually pointed out that the ‘free schools’ programme would be particularly attractive to religious groups. It gives them complete power over what they teach with no safeguards to ensure that myth and misinformation do not dominate the curriculum. We have long raised concerns about the teaching of creationism and religiously distorted sex education in traditional ‘faith’ schools, for example. How does the government propose to address these problems in religious ‘free schools’ which will not have to follow the National Curriculum and are outside local authority control?’

‘The BHA is also concerned that, since the government has only made token gestures to limit religious discrimination in the admissions criteria of ‘free schools’, we will see greater segregation and deeper divisions within communities.’

‘Our own polling shows that the majority of the public are concerned that the ‘free schools’ programme will lead to public money being spent on promoting religious beliefs. We would urge Mr Gove to respond to this concern by introducing robust safeguards, such as legislative change and statutory guidance, to prevent religious extremism and discrimination in state-funded schools.’

Notes

For further information contact Andrew Copson: andrew@humanism.org.uk or 07534 248 596.

The list of ‘free’ schools to open in September 2011 includes Haringey Jewish Primary School, Mill Hill Jewish Primary School, Nishkam Education Trust, Birmingham (Sikh), St. Luke’s School, Camden (Anglican) and I-Foundation Primary School, Leicester (Hindu).

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious and campaigning for an end to religious privilege and discrimination based on religion or belief.

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