Faith groups slam ‘ignorance’ of new schools campaign

by
04 September 2008

by Margaret Holness Education Correspondent

Celebrating success: pupils from Abbots Bromley School for Girls, a Woodard school, receive their GCSE resut, last month

Celebrating success: pupils from Abbots Bromley School for Girls, a Woodard school, receive their GCSE resut, last month

LEADERS from Britain’s main Churches and other faiths this week rejected allegations from a new organisation, Accord, which says that faith schools unfairly discrim­inate against pupils and give prefer­ence to teachers on faith grounds.

Accord was launched on Monday, and includes the Christian think-tank Ekklesia and a range of teacher representatives and political group­ings. The group says that maintained faith schools should not be allowed to operate their own admissions policies or give priority to pupils or teachers on the basis of their faith. Collective worship should be re­placed by “inclusive, stimulating and inspiring assemblies”.

But leaders of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh schools rejected the allegations of discrim­ination. In a joint statement issued last Friday, they said that faith schools provided education in some of the most challenging contexts in the country. “This latest attack, based on unspecified ‘research’, does a huge disservice to the huge value faith schools add to the education sector and the appreciation parents and students have for these schools.”

The Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, the Revd Jan Ainsworth, argued against both Accord’s criticism and its goals: “This coalition exhibits no under­standing of what really goes on in church schools — from the staff recruitment process, which routinely sees non-Christians appointed to teaching and leadership roles, to the emphasis on nurturing appreciation of other cultures and respect for other religions.

“Accord also appears to conveni­ently ignore the fact that every C of E school that has opened since 2000 has been set up to provide the best possible education in urban areas.”

The launch of Accord on Monday was timed to coincide with the introduction of government rules giving church and other faith schools new powers to appoint non-teaching staff in sympathy with their religious ethos. It is understood that this provision is intended to apply mainly to senior teaching assistants who take on extended duties.

The new regulations also give governors of voluntary controlled faith schools the power to appoint head teachers from the same faith.

Accord is chaired by Rabbi Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue, and includes representa­tives from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the British Humanist Association, and the Les­bian and Gay Christian Movement.

Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, says that Accord is not an anti-faith-schools initiative, but an attempt to move the agenda away from rigid positions. “It seeks to build on good practice and to pursue fully inclusive policies on admissions and employment. That calls for dialogue, not confrontation.”

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