A pupil in Telford has been told that he cannot ride a council-run bus to school along with his classmates because ‘he’s not Catholic’, it has been reported. The bus serves the Holy Trinity Academy in Priorslee, which was opened in 2015 jointly by the local Roman Catholic and Anglican dioceses, and despite the bus being operated by Telford and Wrekin Council, it is not open to children at the school who are either not religious or belong to a minority religion. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has once again called on the exemptions in the Equality Act 2010 allowing for discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the provision of school transport to be scrapped.
Speaking about the situation, the father of the boy involved stated that the ‘the bus stops two minutes from the front door’, ‘but he was told that because he’s not Catholic, even though he goes to the school, he can’t use it’. A spokesperson for Telford and Wrekin Council said ‘Transport assistance is offered to pupils who are baptised Catholics and pupils whose families are faithful and regular worshippers in a Church of England Parish Church or other Christian affiliated churches if they live over the three-mile distance criteria for secondary aged pupils.’
Remarkably, discrimination of this kind is entirely legal, as the provision of school transport by local authorities is exempted from equalities legislation. The BHA has previously raised concerns about this exemption with the Department for Education, stating in their response to a 2014 consultation on the issue that ‘Providing one group of parents extra choice over others is unfair, and the nature of the discretionary spending likely causes religious and ethnic segregation’.
The BHA’s Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman said, ‘Discretionary transport for children attending “faith” schools is unfair, discriminatory, and also completely unnecessary. Religious families are already given greater choice of schools than non-religious families as a result of the religious discrimination permitted in school admissions, and this is only exacerbated by the provision of free transport for the religious. On top of that, all the evidence tells us that very few parents actually send their children to a “faith” school for reasons of religion, so this kind of provision is entirely unnecessary too.
‘Ultimately, of course, we do not think it is appropriate for any state body to provide funding for a service which incentivises parents to avoid inclusive and integrated schools in favour of discriminatory and divisive schools. This will only serve to entrench religious segregation in our education system, and we would encourage any council providing free transport to do so in a fair and non-discriminatory way.’
For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Faith Schools Campaigner on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 324 3078.
Read the BHA’s news item ‘BHA calls for an end to “faith” school bias in school transport provision’: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/06/03/bha-calls-end-faith-school-bias-school-transport-provision/
Read the BHA’s response to the Department for Education’s consultation on home-to-school travel and transport: 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 work on ‘faith’ schools: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/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.