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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 September 2005, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Two thirds 'oppose' faith schools
Child writing
Most faith schools are Christian
Nearly two thirds of the public oppose faith schools fearing their impact on social cohesion, a poll suggests.

An ICM/Guardian survey found 64% of people opposed the idea of government funding for faith schools.

This would appear to contradict an earlier BBC poll, which found just 29% of people opposed Christians being allowed to set up faith schools.

Tony Blair has said educating children in their faith is "consistent" with a multi-religious society.

But Barry Sheerman who chairs the Commons education committee questioned the idea of a "ghettoised" system.

Important role?

He told the Guardian: "Schools play a crucial role in integrating different communities and the growth of faith schools poses a real threat to this."

Lib Dem frontbencher Evan Harris said MPs should challenge what he called the "headlong rush towards more state-sponsored religious favouritism and religious discrimination".

"Parliament has never had a chance to debate the cosy establishment consensus that the number of state-funded faith-based schools must expand," he said.

He added that it was "no surprise" people were concerned about faith schools.

Proposals due

"The only surprise is that the government is so determined to allow more discrimination in school admissions, undermine social cohesion and see more religious proselytisation - all funded by the state."

Ministers are due to publish proposals later in the year which will make it easier for independent schools, including Islamic, Christian and Jewish institutions to opt into the state sector with access to public funding.

The vast majority of England's 7,000 or so faith schools are Christian with 36 Jewish, five Muslim and two Sikh schools.

ICM found a quarter of the 1,006 respondents felt faith schools were an important part of the education system and if Christian and Jewish schools had state backing, so should Muslim institutions.

An earlier MORI poll for the BBC, of a nationally representative sample of 1,004 people, found 57% in favour of faith schools for Muslims and 67% in favour of faith schools for Christians.

A booster survey of 204 Muslims showed 79% in favour of Christians being allowed to set up their own faith schools, with a similar number in favour of faith schools for Muslims.

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