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Wednesday, 14 November, 2001, 12:52 GMT
Faith schools told to collaborate
Roman Catholic school
Ministers like the clear ethos of church schools
Ministers are stressing that any more single faith schools in England - which they are keen to encourage - must work with schools of other faiths, or none.

This emphasis on "inclusion" is a response to concerns raised after the race riots in northern England this summer, blamed in part on racial segregation brought about by faith schools.

The Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, told the Church of England 's general synod: "Education is one of the key building blocks of our society, and schools have a vital role to play in helping to build local communities based on tolerance, respect and understanding."

Guidelines will be issued to the school organisation committees, which consider changes to schools in a local authority area, requiring them to look at how any new school proposes to work in partnership with other schools.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said these would apply to any new faith schools or to independent ones seeking to join the state sector.

Long tradition

The rules on proposed new schools will also be changed to invite not only objections but also indications of support and other comments.

Ms Morris said: "We have a long and honourable tradition of faith schools within our education system. For centuries we have acknowledged the desire of some parents to educate their children at church schools.

"It is only right and proper, given the multi-faith society we live in, that we extend that right to other faiths as well."

But "inclusiveness" had to be at the heart of the policy.

"I want to see all schools - including faith schools - working with others, sharing facilities and bringing children of different backgrounds together," she added.

'Distinctive'

The proposal that there should be more faith schools was made at the beginning of the year, and remained in the White Paper published in September.

school artwork
Religious segregation usually means racial segregation
That said: "We know that some faith groups are interested in extending their contribution to state education.

"We wish to welcome faith schools, with their distinctive ethos and character, into the maintained (state) sector, where there is clear local agreement."

And it said: "We want faith schools that come into the maintained sector to add to the inclusiveness and diversity of the school system and to be ready to work with non-denominational schools and those of other faiths."

At present, religious organisations contribute at least 15% to the capital costs of more than 600 secondary schools. The government is cutting that to 10% - the rest coming from public funds.

Segregation

But over the summer came the racial troubles in places such as Oldham and Bradford.

It was argued that faith schools in effect meant racially segregated - there being few Asian children in, say, a Roman Catholic school and few white children in Muslim schools.

A report on Bradford was conducted by Lord Herman Ouseley, the former head of the Commission for Racial Equality.

It said: "There is a fear of confronting all-white and all-Muslim schools about their contribution, or rather the lack of contribution, to social and racial integration and segregation in schools..."

The issue has been highlighted again by the ongoing confrontation on the route to the Holy Cross primary school in Belfast, where Catholic parents take their children to the school through a Protestant housing estate.

Expansion plans

The Church of England has said it wants to establish as many as 100 more secondary schools, in line with recommendations in a report it commissioned by Lord Dearing.


The idea that by 'linking with other schools' religious bigotry will be overcome is wishful thinking

National Secular Society
That report is being debated by the synod on Thursday.

Canon John Hall, the general secretary of the Church of England board of education, has said that church schools are not divisive or sectarian.

But he adds: "The Church intends that its schools offer distinctively Christian education and are open and inclusive of those who seek such an education."

There are also moves to set up more state-funded Islamic primaries and secondaries.

'Meaningless'

Opponents of single faith schools have had their fears heightened by events following the 11 September attacks in the United States.

The Liberal Democrat education spokesman, Phil Willis, said: "We question the wisdom of expanding single faith schools at a time of increased bitterness and hostility in many of our communities."

The National Secular Society said Ms Morris's comments about inclusion were "meaningless".

Its executive director, Keith Porteus-Wood, said: "The idea that by 'linking with other schools' religious bigotry will be overcome is wishful thinking.

"School provides the best, and sometimes only, opportunity to teach tolerance - but only if children of all beliefs and cultures are educated together.

'Second thoughts'

"The problems in Belfast, Bradford and elsewhere remind us how imperative this need is."

But one of the biggest teachers' unions, the NASUWT, said the government appeared to be having "wise second thoughts".

Its general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, said: "There are many delicate issues to consider, not the least of which is the possible effect upon other sections of any given community.

"These must be taken very carefully into account."

See also:

12 Feb 01 | Education
Religious schools to increase
14 Jun 01 | Education
Church of England schools to expand
30 Nov 99 | Education
First state-funded Sikh school opens
09 Feb 01 | Education
'Apartheid' row over Islamic school
05 Apr 01 | Scotland
Parents in Catholic school fight
03 Mar 01 | Mike Baker
Do religion and schools mix?
25 Jul 01 | UK Systems
Religious schools
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