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BHA: Vince Cable accuses Michael Gove of breaking Coalition Agreement over faith schools

In a strongly worded letter, Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham and Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, has accused officials at the Department for Education, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, of breaking the Coalition Agreement, by intervening in a High Court case over inclusive admissions in religious schools.

The case, which was brought by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC), was dismissed on 16 November, with Mr Gove’s arguments prevailing. The judgement is expected very shortly, with the judge indicating on the 16th that it would be delivered about two weeks after the trial (i.e. this Friday).

The Coalition Agreement commits the Government to ‘work with faith groups to enable more faith schools and facilitate inclusive admissions policies in as many of these schools as possible.’ Liberal Democrat party policy states that there should be no ‘establishment of new schools which select by… faith.’

Vince Cable is the local MP for Twickenham, the location of the two proposed Roman Catholic schools, a primary and a secondary, which were at the centre of the case. The schools are due to be highly religiously selective, with the secondary selecting up to 100% of pupils on the basis of their parents’ Catholicism. Dr Cable had favoured the schools having 50% inclusive admissions, and in March had written to Mr Gove to advocate this compromise. Mr Gove wrote back stating that ‘The suggestion that the school takes on a similar provision [of having 50% inclusive admissions] voluntarily seems very sensible to me, and I would welcome such a move.’

However, in September, Mr Gove decided to intervene in the case against the BHA and RISC. The intention of the intervention was to allow religious groups to easily avoid the rule that requires all new Academies (i.e. Free Schools) to have 50% inclusive admissions, and the presumption in favour of new schools being Free Schools, by permitting them to collaborate with Councils to open fully selective Voluntary Aided schools outside of competition, ‘by the back door.’

As a result, on 9 November, Dr Cable wrote to David Laws, Liberal Democrat Schools Minister, CCed to Nick Clegg’s office, stating:

A serious problem has arisen whereby DfE officials, in evidence to a court case, appear to be acting in contradiction of the Coalition Agreement in relation to faith schools and contrary to the express intention of the Education Act 2011

For the record, I and the Richmond Liberal Democrat Council Group have supported the proposal for a new Catholic school but argued that it should be inclusive (ie 50:50 admission). This was in line with the presumption in favour of 50% faith-based admission in new academies in the Act, and the Coalition Agreement.

Can you intervene with the Department to rectify this situation?

However, the request was ignored; the Secretary of State’s intervention went ahead and on 16 November was successful.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘Although it falls short of advocating totally inclusive schools, we welcome Vince Cable’s action in support of greater inclusivity in “faith” schools. Before the general election, the Liberal Democrats’ policy was the most in tune with public opinion on the issue of state-funded religious schools. Those principles were diluted in the Coalition Agreement, and now even that seems to be unenforceable. We would urge other politicians who support inclusive schools to join Dr Cable in urging Michael Gove to reverse his position, and do what he can to rectify the damage done by his Department’s support for new schools with 100% religious admissions.’

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, said ‘Children should not be selected by schools according to faith. It is highly discriminatory and sends a terrible message to the children themselves about the sort of society we are trying to create. It also begs questions about the core values of any faith that wants to shut the doors on others. Britain today is multi-belief, but we don’t want that to become a multi-fractious society. State funded schools should not help to segregate and entrench religious division, but should instead be open to all children, regardless of religion or philosophy. We therefore call on the Government to fulfil its commitment to facilitate inclusive admissions policies. Schools’ conduct should be exemplary, and religious discrimination should form no part of their life.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson on 07534 248596 or at andrew@humanism.org.uk.

For further comment from the Accord Coalition, contact Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain on 07770 722 893 or at rabromain@aol.com.

A survey by the Accord Coalition published on 12 November found that 73% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that ‘state funded schools should not be allowed to select or discriminate against prospective pupils on religious grounds in their admissions policy’, while only 18% disagreed. Read the BHA press release, ‘In week of High Court case, new survey shows overwhelming majority against religious selection in schools’: http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/1141

Read the Coalition Agreement: http://www.direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_dg/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/documents/digitalasset/dg_187876.pdf

Read Liberal Democrat party policy on ‘faith’ school admissions: http://hsld.org.uk/en/document/faith-schools-briefing.doc

Read the Accord Coalition press release, ‘Michael Gove and Vince Cable support religious selection limit in admissions at proposed new Catholic faith school’, 30 March 2012: http://accordcoalition.org.uk/2012/03/30/michael-gove-and-vince-cable-support-religious-selection-limit-in-admissions-at-proposed-new-catholic-faith-school/

Read more about the British Humanist Association’s work on ‘faith’ schools: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

Read the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character: http://www.humanism.org.uk/_uploads/documents/schools-with-a-religious-character.pdf

Visit Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign’s website: http://www.richmondinclusiveschools.org.uk/ Or contact Jeremy Rodell at communications@richmondinclusiveschools.org.uk, or on 07798 935569.

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 Accord Coalition was launched in 2008 and brings together religious and non-religious organisations who to ensure that state funded schools promote inclusion, mutual understanding and properly respect the beliefs of staff, pupils and their families, especially on the grounds of religion and philosophy. It campaigns to end religious discrimination in school staffing and admissions, and for all state maintained schools to provide Personal, Social, Health and Economic education, as well as assemblies and Religious Education that teaches about the broad range of beliefs in our increasingly diverse society. Visit Accord’s website: http://accordcoalition.org.uk/

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