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BHA calls for an end to ‘faith’ school bias in school transport provision

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has today responded to the UK Department for Education’s consultation about the provision of transport to state funded schools in England. As things stand, many local authorities choose to provide free transport to children who want to attend a school specifically for reasons of religion or belief. In practice this disproportionately benefits religious parents who send their children to ‘faith’ schools, particularly those from better off backgrounds (as for those from poorer backgrounds the provision of such transport is compulsory). The draft guidance recommends that such discretionary spending continues; the BHA has called for it to stop.

The draft guidance sets out the Secretary of State’s view that he ‘continues to attach importance to the opportunity that many parents have to choose a school or college in accordance with their religious or philosophical beliefs, and believes that wherever possible, local authorities should ensure that transport arrangements support the religious or philosophical preference parents express’ and ‘hopes that local authorities will continue to think it right not to disturb well established arrangements, some of which have been associated with local agreements or understandings about the siting of such schools.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘The provision of discretionary transport of this nature typically means that parents with nearby schools of the same faith typically have more choice as to which school to send their children to, while everyone else is denied a similar choice. This is unfair, particularly given that surveys consistently show very few of those parents choose which school to send their children to for religious reasons. Paradoxically it is also likely to contribute to religious and ethnic segregation between different schools, despite the widespread evidence that integrated schools promote respect and tolerance and improve pupils’ well-being – and are also what pupils themselves want.

‘In addition, where discretionary transport is provided it disproportionately benefits parents from better-off backgrounds, as those from poorer backgrounds are already eligible for compulsory free transport, including to nearby ‘faith’ schools. And the evidence shows that religious schools are often also socio-economically selective. Providing discretionary transport to children from better-off backgrounds specifically so that they can attend schools that are socio-economically selective is, we think, likely to exacerbate that socio-economic selection and so perpetuate segregation between schools on these grounds as well.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072 or at richy@humanism.org.uk.

Read the consultation: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/home-to-school-travel-and-transport-guidance

Read the response: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/New-home-to-school-travel-and-transport-guidance-response-from-the-BHA.pdf

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

View the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/schools-with-a-religious-character.pdf

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.

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