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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 16:08 GMT
Call for U-turn on faith schools
children in playground
There is opposition to the expansion of faith schools
A Labour MP has called on the government to abandon plans for more faith schools - describing them as a "mad idea".

Tony Wright, the MP for Cannock Chase, told the Commons the events of September 11 made it imperative that there was an end to the expansion of faith schools.

He said the last thing society needed was more schools segregated by religion: "Before September 11 it looked like a bad idea, it now looks like a mad idea."

Speaking during Education Questions, he told Education Secretary Estelle Morris: "We've had some splendid policy rethinks recently.

"Could I ask you to give us another one today?"

The government has said it will allow more faith schools - where that is the wish of the local people.

Disturbances

But the disturbances and racially-motivated violence which hit Bradford and other cities earlier this year led to criticism of the idea, with opponents saying there should be less segregation by religion not more.

Estelle Morris told MPs it was unfair to blame single-faith schools for divisions in society and said she wanted to end discrimination.

"Don't land the whole of the issue of segregated communities on the head of faith schools because that's not what creates it," she said.


Don't land the whole of the issue of segregated communities on the head of faith schools because that's not what creates it

Estelle Morris, Education Secretary
"For centuries people in this country have been tolerant of a parent's wish to have a faith-based education.

"Where we've granted that to Christians and Jews, I don't want to be a Secretary of State who denies it to minority faiths.

"I don't know what message it gives about a multi-cultural society if you say to people who aren't Christians and Jews that you're the only group that can't have a faith-based school."

Ms Morris' view was supported by another Labour MP - Lorna Fitzsimons - who represents Rochdale.

Hypocrisy

She said many people were sorry Britain had not chosen a completely secular education system 150 years ago.

"But the horse has bolted and the greater damage to the communities that I represent, over 20% of which and growing practice the Muslim faith, is the hypocrisy that they see reinforced where other people of faiths that are diminishing have a right protected to actually have a faith-based school and yet they are denied it.

"That is a far more dangerous thing for our communities than actually allowing people to practice, in a regulated way, the faith-based school of their choice."

Open to all

The Liberal Democrats' education spokesman Phil Willis called on the government to ensure faith schools were open to all.

He said: "Will the Secretary of State accept that no faith school in receipt of state funding should discriminate, in their admissions process, against children of other faiths and those with no faith?

"Will the Secretary of State guarantee that faith schools will have inclusive admissions policies and will she bring in legislation, if necessary, to ensure that there is no discrimination on the basis of faith?"

The Education Secretary replied that it was reasonable to give preference to one faith if the school was over-subscribed but said safeguards were in place.

See also:

12 Feb 01 | Education
Religious schools to increase
07 Oct 00 | Education
Go-ahead for Muslim girls' school
14 Jun 01 | Education
Church of England schools to expand
06 Nov 01 | Education
Call for multi-faith schools
30 Nov 99 | Education
First state-funded Sikh school opens
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