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‘Faith schools: A threat to equality?’ Yes, hears Labour conference

Are faith schools a threat to equality? That was the topic of discussion at the joint Humanists UK/Labour Humanists fringe, which took place this morning at the Labour Party conference. The fringe, which heard from a range of experts from within and outside the Labour Party, addressed the issues of school admissions, the curriculum, and illegal religious schools.

The event was chaired by Labour Humanists Chair Eve Willis. Speakers included Shadow Education Minister Lord Watson of Invergowrie, Humanists UK patron Angela Eagle MP, Humanists UK trustee Tom Copley AM, co-founder of Faith to Faithless Aliyah Saleem, and Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson.

Humanists UK has affiliated groups within the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Green parties. Last week Andrew Copson was the speaker at a Humanist and Secularist Liberal Democrats event on the global war against the non-religious at the Liberal Democrats conference, and next week Humanists UK and Conservative Humanists are co-hosting an event at the Conservative Party conference.

Speaking first, Angela Eagle talked about the importance of schools teaching critical thinking and instilling good values, and the role that Humanists UK plays in supporting this through its curriculum reform. She talked about the growing dangers of fundamentalism and tied it to wider societal trends around fake news.

Andrew Copson talked about the harms caused by faith-based admissions policies, and how they cause more socio-economic segregation in the state system than grammar schools. He also touched on the need to address illegal schools, and commended the report of the Commission on RE and its recommendations for reform of teaching about religions and humanism in all schools.

Aliyah Saleem discussed her experience having attended a private Muslim school. She starkly remembers two girls being expelled at 12 after the school said they were lesbians. She received a very narrow curriculum, with no real history teaching, and concluded that ‘Although parents have rights, we should be more concerned by the rights of children.’

Tom Copley talked about the need for no indoctrination by state schools. RE is important, Tom said, but needs to be balanced and instil critical thinking. He discussed how there are more places religiously selected by state schools than there are places at private, grammar, and single-sex schools combined.

Concluding, Mike Watson talked about the evidence that the 50% cap on religious selection by free schools has succeeded in increasing ethnic and socio-economic diversity. He talked about the need for action to tackle unregistered schools and the work he has been doing in Parliament on this. He also commended Labour’s recently announced policy of making all schools their own admission authorities, which may help tackle some of the worst excesses of faith school admissions.

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 07815 589636.

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.

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