Govt paves way for expansion of faith schools

The National Secular Society has attacked the government’s support for faith schools, describing its proposals as “plain madness”.

The government yesterday set out plans to back faith-based education, in exchange for faith schools promising to foster tolerance and understanding of other religions

Paving the way for a significant expansion of the number of faith schools, Ed Balls said the government would remove “unnecessary barriers” for faith schools wanting to work in the state system.

More than 100 independent Muslim schools could now join the state system.

However, the National Secular Society said separating children on the basis of religion “cannot possibly encourage social cohesion”.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: “Academic research confirms that the best time to break down racial and religious barriers is in primary school.

“It is a sure-fire recipe for separation, and future conflict to encourage children to think of themselves primarily as being of a particular religion, rather than encouraging them to concentrate on what we all have in common.”

In a joint exercise with faith schools across England, the government set out a document designed to “dispel the myths” surrounding religious education.

The document states the government and religious groups “confirm our commitment to continue to work together and with schools with and without a religious character to improve the life chances of children, to build bridges to greater mutual trust and understanding and to contribute to a just and cohesive society.”

Speaking at the launch event at the British Library, education secretary Ed Balls said: “I fully recognise that faith schools are popular with many parents and make a valuable contribution to the way in which this country educates its children.

“Faith in the system is a ground breaking document representing the government’s and religious groups’ commitment to ensuring that every child, wherever they start in life, gets to experience the best our education system has to offer.”

The initiative was welcomed by leaders from across the main religious faiths.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said: “Church of England schools are proud of their distinctive ethos: they offer not a programme of indoctrination, but the possibility of developing a greater level of community cohesion through the understanding of how faith shapes common life.”

Dr Mohamed Mukadam, chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools UK, said: “Any person with a genuine interest in the well-being of our nation will see this document as a step towards creating a more cohesive society where people of all races, faiths and cultures will live together in harmony and contribute positively to the social, political and economic well-being of their country.”