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Government washes its hands of discriminatory impact of new fully religiously selective schools

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Humanists UK has expressed alarm about the Government’s outright rejection of concerns that a scheme to fund a wave of new, fully selective religious schools will lead to discrimination, increased segregation, and social division.

In its equality impact assessment of a capital scheme to support the establishment of new voluntary aided (VA) schools, which are legally permitted to select 100% of their pupils on a religious basis, the Department for Education falls back on a legal exception for religion or belief for ‘anything done in connection with… the establishment, alteration or closure of schools’ in the Equality Act 2010. It eventually appears to conclude that since the ‘scheme would not be discriminatory within the meaning of the [Act],’ worries about the discriminatory nature of these new schools can be dismissed.  

The assessment, which was published following two separate freedom of information requests by Humanists UK, fully acknowledges that  VA schools with a religious character will ‘benefit pupils of those faiths, and their parents, by making it easier for them to gain places at state-funded schools’ and that, in many cases, this ‘benefit [will] not be experienced by children or parents of other faiths or non-religious convictions’.

However despite recognising the policy’s ‘disproportionate favourable impact on certain religious groups’, the Government has nevertheless decided to push ahead, arguing that problems of discrimination and segregation can be offset by the introduction of a range of mitigating measures. These include establishing local parental demand for places (including from families of other or no faith) and insisting that all proposals demonstrate how the school will ‘will be welcoming and address the needs of pupils from all faiths and none’.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham commented, ‘This assessment tries to minimise valid, evidence-based concerns about the threat to social cohesion and integration posed by fully selective faith schools, and fails to adequately engage with the ways in which this policy will disadvantage families of other religions or beliefs. It is all very well insisting that a school is attractive to families from all faiths and none, but if that school’s admissions policy means that children from those backgrounds are placed to the back of the queue for places, the measure is, at best, meaningless and, at worst uses such families to prop up less desirable religious schools.

‘The Government has a duty to ensure that its policies do not threaten equality and help to maintain good relations between all members of society. And yet, by its own admission, these new fully selective VA schools will increase segregation across all schools, while disproportionately favouring families who share the religion of the new schools. This is patently unfair and we will continue to do all we can to challenge this policy.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07 393344293.

Read our news item on the recent announcement of 100% religiously selective schools here: https://humanism.org.uk/2018/11/15/new-100-religiously-selective-state-schools-set-to-open-in-england/

For more information about our faith schools campaign work, visit:

https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-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.

 

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