The Government has published today its Integrated Communities Strategy green paper, which ‘invites views on the government’s vision for building strong integrated communities.’ The green paper is a response to the review published by Dame Louise Casey in 2016, which criticised the growing segregation within the education system and communities in Britain. Humanists UK has welcomed the Government’s ambition, particularly with regard to illegal faith schools, but expresses concern about its failure to tackle the segregating impact of faith-based school admissions.
Faith school admissions
Bemoaning the lack of opportunities for children and young people to mix with those from different backgrounds, the green paper states:
‘Segregated schools are a product of where people live, admissions policies and parental choice. Segregated schools reduce opportunities for children and young people to mix with others from different backgrounds in their formative years and it can restrict pupils’ outlook and education.’
It also states that ‘for new free schools in the future we will strengthen expectations on integration further’.
Sadly, the green paper does not commit to maintaining the 50% cap on faith-based admissions at religious free schools, or any other effort to reduce religious discrimination in school admissions. The Government has proposed to drop the 50% cap despite the fact that it has proven to be the most effective integration measure in the majority of new faith schools since its introduction in 2007. In Humanists UK’s view, any attempt to boost integration in the education system is likely to be a non-starter if new and existing faith schools can still religiously discriminate in admitting all of their places.
Alternative integration measures for schools
In a vain attempt to fill the hole left by the potential removal of the 50% cap, the Government has suggested a range of alternative integration measures for schools. These measures include school ‘linking’ or ‘twinning’ which aims ‘to develop strong and positive links between schools and communities’. And ‘social mixing outside school… where there are limited opportunities for meaningful social mixing within school’.
Whilst neither of these ‘alternatives’ to inclusive school admissions are unhelpful in themselves, it is their status as ‘alternatives’ that renders them piecemeal. The measures are designed to ensure that children have meaningful interactions with those from other backgrounds. Clearly, however, educating children from different backgrounds alongside each other for the entirety of their schooling is vastly superior to holding the odd joint lesson, assembly, school trip, or sports match.
Removing the 50% cap and implementing these alternatives is like taking five steps back and one step forward. The green paper exhibits a genuine desire from the Government to promote integration, but until it stops feeling obliged to bow to the every demand of a small but noisy religious lobby, genuine integration in the education system will never be achieved.
Following extensive campaigning by Humanists UK and its supporters for greater action against illegal, unregistered schools, the Government has finally indicated that it will look to close the legal loopholes that allow them to continue operating. Acknowledging that the children within these settings ‘may be at increased risk of emotional or physical abuse, and exposure to views which encourage isolation, intolerance, and a lack of respect for, or even hostility towards, others’, the green paper states:
‘A small minority of unregistered schools seek to evade regulation altogether and operate unlawfully. These are schools that operate full-time and should be registered, but are not.
‘… We believe that all full time independent education settings should be registered and regulated, no matter what curriculum they offer. Currently, some cannot be registered because of the restricted range of their curriculum. This is unacceptable given the need to protect the welfare and education of the children involved. We intend to amend the registration requirement for independent education settings so that all such settings which children attend full- time during the school day have to register, and we will consult in due course on detailed proposals.’
The Government has also committed to reviewing the powers of Ofsted in relation to unregistered schools, ‘strengthening their abilities to collect evidence and interview those suspected of running illegal schools’.
This is a significant step forward and one that Humanists UK has been calling for for many years now. Working with former pupils of illegal faith schools in recent years, we have been responsible for revealing the appalling experiences of the children still trapped within them. Efforts to ensure that no more children have to grow up at risk of indoctrination, isolation, and abuse are long overdue, and the Government must bring forward its proposals as soon as possible. Each day that these places remain open, the rights and wellbeing of thousands of children are threatened.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘The Government’s new integration strategy is broad and ambitious in lots of ways, particularly around illegal schools. But it risks dying on its feet unless the Government starts recognising the role that discriminatory faith schools play in entrenching ethnic, religious, and social segregation. The best hope we have of achieving an open, integrated, and tolerant society is by encouraging our children to reject the prejudice and ignorance that we have allowed to fester for too long. That simply won’t be possible if we continue to divide them up from an early age on the basis of religious identities. We will be responding to this consultation to that effect, and we hope the Government is prepared to listen.’
For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 324 3078.
Read the full green paper: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/integrated-communities-strategy-green-paper
Read more about our work on:
- Faith schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/
- Illegal faith schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/illegal-religious-schools/
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.