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The Education Act 2011 received Royal Assent yesterday, having completed its passage through Parliament last week. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has repeatedly expressed concern that changes to the rules about how new schools are set up will result in further expansion of the proportion of ‘faith’ schools in the state sector. Unfortunately, despite much hard work by humanist Peers, the new law is likely to contribute to further entrenchment of religious discrimination in the school system.
In November last year, the Government published its Education White Paper, The Importance of Teaching, which the BHA responded to. Following on from this, the Education Bill was published in January, with the BHA continuing to warn of a potential expansion in the number of unaccountable ‘faith’ schools. In February the BHA briefed MPs ahead of the second reading of the Bill in the House of Commons, and in June we briefed peers ahead of the second reading in the House of Lords.
We then worked with members of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group to introduce amendments ahead of the Committee Stage of the Bill, with PSHE, Collective Worship, ‘faith’ school admissions, Free Schools, Academies, community cohesion and ‘faith’ school employment subsequently coming up for debate before the conclusion of the Stage. In Report Stage, we worked with APPHG Secretary Baroness Massey of Darwen to table amendments on new school proposals and on admissions, which were subsequently rejected by the Government. An amendment on sex education was also debated.
The Act has now been granted Royal Assent and thus become law. BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We have a number of concerns about new provisions introduced in the Education Act, first and foremost of which is the increased ease with which ‘faith’ schools – either Voluntary Aided (VA) schools or Free Schools – can be set up, and the relegation of routes through which inclusive schools can be established. We expect to see existing ‘faith’ school providers such as the Catholic Church, Church of England and Jewish organisations continue to pursue VA schools, where they can fully discriminate in admissions (this is limited to 50% in Free Schools). On the other hand, fringe evangelical and pseudoscientific groups, who previously would not have been able to set up state-funded schools due to a lack of funds and a lack of local authority support, can now do so through the Free School route without requiring either.
‘The BHA will continue to campaign locally against proposed ‘faith’ schools, as well as campaigning at a national level to see their abolition and re-absorption into the inclusive education sector.’
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.
The BHA also supported the work of the Accord Coalition throughout the passage of the Bill. Accord focused primarily on amendments around community cohesion.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.