New religious schools bid

East London Humanists join the call to halt recent proposals that will lead to more divisive and discriminatory religious schools in this opinion piece for publication Newham Recorder 30.1.19

“You may be forgiven for thinking the Government has little time at the moment for issues other than Brexit. But a divisive plan for discriminatory religious schools, which many hoped had been seen off last year, has just re-emerged in a new guise. All those interested in community cohesion should do their utmost to make sure it does not slip in under the radar.

Newham is one of the Boroughs highlighted in maps published by the Department for Education to help groups wishing to apply for funding to open new Voluntary Aided Schools. These schools will have the right not to admit any child whose parents are not of the school’s chosen religion.   The intention is to encourage the establishment of these new schools in areas like Newham which need new school places. Around 98% of their cost will be met by the taxpayer.

In 2007 Labour introduced a requirement that certain new schools kept at least half of their places open to local children irrespective of religion or belief. This sent the important message that, if our country is to be integrated, then our schools must be too. During the early period of May’s government there were attempts to do away with the 50% cap for Free Schools. Following lobbying by Humanists UK and others, and cross-party opposition, these plans were abandoned. However, the new Voluntary Aided schools which have recently been proposed will have no cap.

Research, not to mention common sense, suggests that if children aren’t given sufficient opportunity to mix with those from other backgrounds they will be deprived of experiences important to building good relationships across our communities.  Whatever measures schools might be asked to adopt to address this cannot match the benefits of children actually living and learning alongside each other.

The Government plans follow further lobbying from some religious leaders. However, polling shows that the great majority of parents, including those with religious belief, are opposed to 100% religious selection in schools. The proposals are not in the interests of society as a whole and should be nipped in the bud now. “

Paul Kaufman
Chair East London Humanists

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