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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 March 2006, 16:34 GMT
Archbishop defends faith schools
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams
Faith schools cater for a wide range of children, said Dr Williams
Claims that faith schools cherry-pick bright, wealthy pupils have been denied by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dr Rowan Williams told the National Church Schools conference that such schools cater for children from a diverse range of backgrounds.

But he vowed to end the "heartache" of admissions, saying faith schools should commit to guarantee places for local children and those of other religions.

The National Secular Society said faith schools were "self-evidently divisive".

The archbishop's remarks follow claims that church primary schools in England are less likely to take in children from low-income families than local authority schools.

HAVE YOUR SAY
You can have faith schools, but the teaching of religion has to be inclusive
George Hinton, Twickenham, UK

A study from the Institute for Research in Integrated Strategies found schools in the voluntary-aided sector had fewer poorer children than was expected after judging their area's social make-up.

But Dr Williams insisted: "The statistical evidence publicly available in fact makes it plain that the proportion of Church of England schools with significantly high numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds is much the same as the average within the community sector."

He added: "The often-forgotten fact that church schools are the main educational presence in some of our most deprived communities means that it simply can't be said that these schools somehow have a policy of sanitising or segregating."

Interview ban

Faith schools have been put in the spotlight by the government's Education and Inspections Bill for England. MPs will vote on the bill on Wednesday.

Under this, schools will be able to set up "trusts" with outside bodies, including faith groups, with more say over admissions and budgets.

Catholic and Church of England leaders have already backed changes to the bill which would outlaw the practice of interviewing parents.

Interviewing is against the admissions code, and few schools in England do it.

We should make all state schools open equally to children of all faiths and none
Keith Porteous
National Secular Society

But a test case involving the Roman Catholic London Oratory School, where Prime Minister Tony Blair sent his sons, showed this could not be enforced.

In his speech at the conference in London, Dr Williams said Church of England schools needed some "simple objective criteria" across the country for admissions and a "clear public commitment" in the sector to guarantee places for local children and children from other faiths.

Such a move would help counter "persistent misrepresentation" he said.

Dr Williams also called for faith schools to teach about other religions and explore the possibility of exchange visits between schools.

He noted that in some areas, local Muslim children were as likely as others to be educated in church schools because such schools were among the "relatively few" public institutions regarded with trust by minority religious communities.

'Burning in hell'

Schools minister Jacqui Smith said the Church of England would be given a bigger role in state education as a result of the government's reforms.

She added that faith schools should teach children from all backgrounds, not just those who share the same religious beliefs.

The archbishop's defence of faith schools was described by the National Secular Society as "disingenuous and self-serving".

Its executive director, Keith Porteous Wood, said: "The concept of faith schools is self-evidently divisive."

He added: "The whole point of faith schools is for them to bring youngsters to the one true denomination or faith.

"Implicitly, if not explicitly, those who do not follow the faith are regarded as inferior. Some preach that non-followers will face eternal damnation, torment and burning in hell. Nothing could be more divisive."

'Positive'

A Church of England poll of 1,019 adults conducted in November last year showed seven out of 10 people believed Church of England schools play a "positive" role in education.

A total of 74% of respondents from rural areas supported church schools with similarly high figures of 69% and 77% support from those surveyed from areas with predominantly local authority housing and separate towns respectively.




SEE ALSO:
'Richer pupils' at church schools
13 Feb 06 |  Education
Schools study hints at selection
07 Nov 05 |  Education
Churches welcome interview ban
07 Feb 06 |  Education
Church schools 'help poor pupils'
17 Feb 06 |  Education
Viewpoints: Religious teaching
22 Feb 06 |  Education


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