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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 October 2006, 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK
Schools 'key to defusing tension'
C of E school classroom
The impact of faith schools has been debated in parliament
Faith schools must do more to defuse community tensions, Education Secretary Alan Johnson has said.

Speaking in Brighton, he said moves to encourage new faith schools to take up to 25% of pupils from other backgrounds were "only a start".

Mr Johnson wants to introduce an exchange scheme for teachers between different faith schools, and to twin non-faith schools with faith schools.

He said schools were in a "unique position to prevent social division".

Mr Johnson addressed delegates at a conference of the National Children and Adult Services on Wednesday afternoon.

'Crossing boundaries'

He spoke of the critical role of education in promoting respect and understanding.

"Young minds are free from prejudice and discrimination so schools are in a unique position to prevent social division," he told delegates.

"Schools should cross ethnic and religious boundaries, and certainly not increase them, or exacerbate the difficulties in this sensitive area."

Earlier this year all the faiths agreed to teach about other religions in their schools.

We should explore where there is more we can do by encouraging existing faith school to further promote community cohesion
Alan Johnson
Education secretary

On Tuesday night, an amendment was tabled to the Education and Inspections Bill which will give local authorities power to make new state-funded faith schools in England offer 25% of places to children from different faiths or non-believers.

Where there is a lot of local opposition, parents and others will be able to appeal to the education secretary.

Best practice

Asked if the legislation should have included existing as well as new faith schools, Mr Johnson told the BBC that it was only needed for new schools.

"It's important that the education system encourages the kind of integration we want to see in this country.

"But having said that, we can do that in relation to existing schools working with us, adopting best practice," he said.

In his speech in Brighton, Mr Johnson said that the amendment was just the beginning.

"Through the current consultation on the new admissions code, we should explore where there is more we can do by encouraging existing faith schools to further promote community cohesion, as I know they themselves are keen to do.

How can you be intimidated by the fact that in university you're going to come across non-Muslims?
Farzina Alam

"I want to see teachers exchange between different religious schools, so that pupils and teachers are exposed to the ethos and approach of different faiths."

The idea of quotas for faith schools has met with opposition from Muslim, Jewish and Catholic groups.

One Muslim woman, Farzina Alam, now 22, told the BBC's Today programme that her experience of an all-girls' Muslim faith school had been a negative one where most students were unsure how to act in front of boys.

"They felt intimidated by the fact that...firstly they were going to attend university with boys, and university with non-Muslims which I found absolutely shocking.

"You live in a country where most people are not Muslim. How can you be intimidated by the fact that in university you're going to come across non-Muslims?"




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Education Secretary Alan Johnson on faith schools



SEE ALSO
Faith schools asked to 'open up'
17 Oct 06 |  UK Politics
School pupil quotas upset faiths
16 Oct 06 |  Education
Muslim students 'more tolerant'
11 Oct 06 |  Lancashire

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