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Sunday, 16 December, 2001, 17:48 GMT
Minister defends faith schools
Playgroujd of Raine's Foundation School in east London
Faith schools: Questioned in race riot reports
A minister has denied the government is reinforcing community segregation by encouraging the development of more faith schools.

Home Office minister John Denham said people were "missing the point" when they focused arguments about racial divide on faith schools.

He said many children were effectively segregated, even if they did not go to faith schools.

"There are schools which are predominantly one faith or one culture rather than another," he told ITV's Dimbleby programme on Sunday.

Faith schools in England
About 25,000 state schools in total
About 7,000 state faith schools
6,384 of these are primary
40 in total are non-Christian
Of these, 32 are Jewish

"Every single school is going to need to find ways of addressing the barriers between communities."

Tory former cabinet minister Ann Widdecombe supported Mr Denham, saying faith schools "need not reproduce problems" of segregation.

She said: "The Roman Catholic, Church of England and Jewish communities have been running their own schools with the aid of governments for many decades and the fact is they do not produce a culture or something which is alien to those children functioning in society.

"People go home from those schools to a wider community.

"The problem can arise when you have a community which itself is segregated, with a very distinctive culture.

"You then have a school which then only promotes that, and the children then only go into that segregated community."

Fierce debate

The government policy of encouraging state-funded faith schools has been the subject of fierce debate since it was questioned in last week's reports on the summer's race riots in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford.

Home Office minister John Denham
John Denham: All schools must tackle community divides
The reports warned that increasing the educational divide between youngsters of different faiths was likely to increase the segregation that fuelled the violence.

Ministers defended the policy, with Home Secretary David Blunkett saying that since Christian and Jewish faith-based schools had long been encouraged, other faiths should also have them.

Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt - who represents a constituency in multi-ethnic Leicester - said abolishing state-funded faith schools could exacerbate the problem.

Such schools would then move into the private sector, where no children from other backgrounds would be admitted, she warned.

But other Labour MPs, including Halifax MP Alice Mahon, called for the policy to be dropped.

Faith schools
Do they cause problems in society?
See also:

12 Dec 01 | Education
Divisions over faith schools
11 Dec 01 | Education
Religious quota 'works for us'
11 Dec 01 | Education
Analysis: Faith schools and quotas
11 Dec 01 | Education
Schools 'need to work together'
19 Feb 99 | Education
Education system racist - Ouseley
12 Dec 01 | Education
Balancing faith in school
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