Tristram Hunt calls for reform of place of religion in schools as Observer poll shows widespread public opposition

Speaking to The Observer, Shadow Secretary of State for Education Tristram Hunt has today called for changes around how religion is taught and inspected in state schools, in order to ensure religious education is properly inspected and a broad range of religions are taught. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has long campaigned for reform of religious education to ensure that the subject teaches about different religions and non-religious beliefs in a high quality, objective manner, has welcomed Dr Hunt’s comments.

The news comes alongside a survey in The Observer by Opinium finding that 58% of the public believe that ‘faith’ schools should not be funded by the state or should be abolished. ‘70% said the taxpayer should not be funding the promotion of religion in schools, 60% said such schools promoted division and segregation, and 41% said they were contrary to the promotion of a multicultural society. Fewer than one in three (30%) said they had no objections to faith schools being funded by the state… Opinium found that 75% of the public believed there was a serious risk pupils could be encouraged to adopt extremist views in predominantly Muslim schools. A majority – 56% – thought all faith schools should have to teach the national curriculum rather than being free to teach only about their own religion.’

Dr Hunt told The Observer that while he believes ‘faith’ schools are ‘an important part of the educational landscape’, ‘Events in Birmingham have raised questions about faith, multiculturalism and state education and in the aftermath this is the moment to think about discussing, on a cross-party basis, how we manage potential tensions, particularly in urban districts.’ Dr Hunt said that he thought Ofsted should have a role in inspecting how religion is taught in ‘faith’ schools – at the moment this is done by the school’s religious parent organisation – and that ‘faith’ schools should teach about religions other than their own. Dr Hunt also called for cross-party talks on the matter.

Responding to the news, Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA, commented, ‘As things stand, 100% state funded “faith” schools can and typically do teach one religion as true and all others are false, while non-religious worldviews are often ignored entirely. They turn children away because their parents are of the “wrong” religion or no religion, and they refuse to hire the best qualified staff for the same reason.

‘The proportion of secondary-age pupils in religious state schools has gone up by 20% over the course of this century with no meaningful political debate of whether this is desirable never mind about popular. That Tristram Hunt is now proposing to look again at some aspects of this system is to be welcomed.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 0781 55 89 636.

Read Andrew Copson’s recent comment piece on religion and schools for politics.co.uk: http://www.politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2014/06/11/comment-the-cost-of-failing-to-address-the-place-of-religion

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

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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