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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 08:59 GMT 09:59 UK
Johnson in faith schools summit
girls in classroom
Faith schools are key to reducing tension, Alan Johnson says
Representatives of the UK's major religious groups have met Alan Johnson to discuss how schools can help improve relations between faiths.

The education secretary explained an amendment to the Education and Inspections Bill.

This requires all new faith schools in England to admit up to 25% of pupils from other religious backgrounds.

It is understood he explained that this will not work on the basis of quotas, but on local preference and demand.

Most new faith schools are expected to be Islamic, leading to some complaints that the new law will unfairly target Muslims.


The Church of England has already announced that its new schools will voluntarily accept a quarter of pupils from outside the faith - but it said other faiths should not be expected to offer the same commitment.

The Roman Catholic Church, Muslim and Jewish faiths have expressed resistance to the idea.

Mr Johnson explained that where there is local opposition, a local authority will need the consent of the education secretary to approve a new faith school with fewer than 25% of non-faith admissions.

He also discussed how faith schools can be made more inclusive.

Examples include Liverpool's St Francis of Assisi School, which has an intake which is half Catholic and half Church of England, and the Guru Nanak School in west London, which is the UK's only state-funded Sikh school, which is changing its admission code to include a mixture of faiths.

Church of England 4,646
Roman Catholic 2,041
Jewish 37
Muslim 8
Sikh 2

The education secretary has previously suggested the idea of teacher exchanges between religious schools, so that pupils and teachers can be exposed to the ethos and approach of different faiths.

He has also suggested that independent faith schools should do more to co-operate with non-faith schools in their area, as part of their responsibility to demonstrate that they provide the benefit to the community which their charitable status requires.

In a speech at a conference of the National Children and Adult Services in Brighton last week, Mr Johnson said that schools were key to reducing tension in the community.

'Free from prejudice'

He said: "Young minds are free from prejudice and discrimination - so schools are in a unique position to prevent social division.

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

Taking part in the summit were representatives of the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Network of Sikh Organisations, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Association of Muslim Schools.

Schools 'key to defusing tension'
18 Oct 06 |  Education
Faith schools asked to 'open up'
17 Oct 06 |  UK Politics
Church schools in 'inclusive' vow
03 Oct 06 |  Education
School pupil quotas upset faiths
16 Oct 06 |  Education
Muslim students 'more tolerant'
11 Oct 06 |  Lancashire

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