Together with the Accord coalition for inclusive schools and the Humanist and Secular Liberal Democrats (HSLD), the BHA hosted its second fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool on ‘Should there be faith in faith schools?’
Chair of the Accord coalition Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain opened the meeting with a speech setting out evidence which demonstrates the social divisiveness of faith schools not only on grounds of religion but of class. Rabbi Romain stated that lessons should be learned from Northern Ireland where the segregated school system has greatly contributed to religious divisions.
Following Rabbi Romain, Reverend Simon Wilson suggested that abolishing faith schools was not likely at the moment and so the focus should be on reforming schools so that they really are inclusive.
Neville Kenyon, the president of the Unitarians in the UK described how Unitarians were discriminated against, including in Christian faith schools, because some do not consider them to be “proper Christians”. Mr Kenyon emphasised the Unitarians position that children should be encouraged to think for themselves and make their own decisions about what to believe, and not to have a variety of religions and beliefs taught in the curriculum.
Setting out the wider political context, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said that the Academies Bill, the flagship legislation of the coalition government which allows schools to ‘convert’ to academy status and for ‘free schools’ to be created, was a great disappointment which could lead to more religious discrimination in the school system in England and Wales than ever before. However, the upcoming curriculum review could be an excellent opportunity for reform, not least on religious education and abolishing collective worship.
Questions and contributions from the audience were largely supportive of the panel and included the anomaly of high numbers of religious schools for an increasingly secular population, a need to focus on children’s rights not only on parent’s rights, and more warnings from experience of Northern Irish segregated and highly religious schools.
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