Liberal Democrats vote to end religious selection amongst state schools

The Liberal Democrats have passed new party policy to support an end to religious selection in state-funded schools in England. The policy also calls for all state schools to teach impartial education about religious and non-religious worldviews that is inspected by Ofsted, for much stricter limits on religious discrimination in ‘faith’ school employment, and for the current legal requirement for schools to hold daily acts of collective worship to be repealed.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the result. It supported Humanist and Secularist Liberal Democrats (HSLD) in their efforts to draft the motion, and the BHA’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy spoke in favour of the motion at a fringe event organised by HSLD and the Liberal Democrat Education Association on Friday.

The party was presented with three different options on the policy on faith-based admissions. One option was phasing out religious discrimination entirely. Another was reducing it to 50% of places across the board. And the third was for unlimited religious selection. The party opted for both the first of these three options, and the policy motion as a whole.

The Conservatives previously supported existing rules to limit religious selection to 50% of places amongst new state-funded religious schools, but since Theresa May became Prime Minister, has been consulting on scrapping those rules and introducing 100% selection. The Green Party also has policy opposing all religious selection amongst state-funded schools, whereas Labour has been campaigning for keeping the 50% cap.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘We are delighted to see the Liberal Democrats adopt such a fair and comprehensive policy on religious schools, especially on school admissions, given current Government policy proposing to expand such selection.

‘In a recent OECD survey, only four countries were identified as allowing their taxpayer-funded schools to religiously discriminate in admissions: Ireland, Israel, Estonia, and the UK. Such an approach is highly unusual internationally and it is hugely unpopular across all religious and non-religious groups in our country. Children as young as four are segregated on the basis of their parents’ ability to attend a place of worship on a weekly basis and this is no basis for a healthy and integrated future society.

‘We urge the Government to take notice and think again about its plans to expand religious selection.’

New Lib Dem policy

Precisely, Lib Dem policy now calls for:

[A] new approach to state-funded faith schools which:

a. Ensures that religious education in all state-funded schools:

1. Is kept separate from any religious instruction.
2. Covers all the major religious and non-religious viewpoints.
3. Is part of the party’s proposed slimmed-down national curriculum, appropriate to local circumstances.
4. Is included in inspections by Ofsted.

b. Ensures that staff in faith schools are employed only on the basis of merit, with exemptions to allow candidates’ beliefs to be a factor in recruitment only for those staff who are mainly or exclusively responsible for providing religious instruction.
c. Allows state-funded schools to hold acts of worship and provide religious instruction, but repeals the existing legal requirement for all state-funded schools to hold acts of collective worship, and for non-religious schools to hold acts of worship of a broadly Christian character.
d. Requires schools to ensure that any act of worship and any religious instruction is optional for members of staff directly employed by the school, and for pupils who are mature enough to decide for themselves and otherwise for parents, and that suitable alternative activities are provided for these pupils.
e. Ensures that selection in admissions on the basis of religion or belief to state-funded schools is phased out over up to six years.

Notes

For further comment or information please contact BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 07970 393680.

Read the new Liberal Democrats policy on ‘the role of faith in state-funded schools’: http://www.libdems.org.uk/conference-spring-17-f16-faith-schools

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.

The BHA is a co-founder of the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC). The FAC wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

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