A number of Catholic schools in England, as well as the bodies responsible for running them, have been reported by Humanists UK to the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted over the alleged unlawful unbalanced treatment of political issues. Humanists UK has identified that the schools concerned have been encouraging families to campaign for further religious discrimination in school admissions – something that Humanists UK believes breaks education laws against the unbalanced treatment of political issues.
In a recent letter to schools, the Catholic Diocese of Westminster’s Education Service has encouraged schools to contribute to ‘a very public final campaign’ in order to influence the Government’s ‘critical decision on whether to overturn the [50%] admissions cap’ that currently limits religious selection in free schools. The letter asks schools to ‘encourage your local schools communities, governors, staff and parents to make their voices heard’, a message subsequently shared on the websites and in the newsletters of a number of Catholic schools.
Schools in a number of other dioceses have shared similar messages, suggesting that the promotion may be country-wide.
Any political campaigning is in violation of Section 407 of the Education Act 1996, which requires schools to take all reasonably practical steps to secure that where political issues are brought to the attention of pupils, they are ‘offered a balanced presentation of opposing views’. Similarly, Section 406 requires schools to forbid the promotion of partisan political views or, in the case of junior pupils, the pursuit of partisan political activities.
In its complaint to both the DfE and Ofsted, Humanists UK states that:
‘The letter, in asking for “school communities” as differentiated from parents and staff to be encouraged to take this action, seems clear to me to be encouraging schools to break the law… this use of state-funded schools to pursue the narrow, self-interested political objectives of a religious organisation is entirely inappropriate.’
This is not the first time Catholic schools have been referred to the DfE for their promotion of unbalanced political views, in contravention of the Act. In 2012 the Catholic Education Service (CES) wrote to every state-funded Catholic secondary school in England and Wales asking them to urge pupils to sign a petition against same-sex marriage, leading to UK and Welsh Government investigations. The Welsh Government subsequently concluded that any school that did as the CES requested had broken the law.
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘For too long, religious organisations have hijacked our state education system to further their own vested religious interests. Now, and not for the first time, they are seeking to hijack our schools to further their political interests too. Such a use of school children and public money is immoral as well as – we believe – unlawful.
‘The architects of this cynical campaign, designed to frustrate all efforts to promote integration and equal access in the state education system, should be reprimanded in the strongest terms and we hope the DfE and Ofsted will investigate and take action without delay.’
For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigner Jay Harman on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 324 3078/07970 393 680.
Read full briefing on the misleading religious lobbying around the 50% cap: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016-11-17-BHA-briefing-Religious-lobbying-on-50-per-cent-cap.pdf
Read Humanists UK’s previous news item ‘Catholic Education Service has likely broken multiple laws in pushing same-sex marriage petition on pupils’: https://humanism.org.uk/2012/04/25/news-1026/
At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.
Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/