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Last Updated: Friday, 27 October 2006, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Ministers face faith school fight
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The government says schools can help prevent social division

The government is facing a battle in the House of Lords after it abandoned plans to make new faith schools take more children from other religions.

Education Secretary Alan Johnson said he had dropped the idea after reaching a "voluntary agreement" with churches.

But his Tory predecessor Lord Baker told the BBC he would table an amendment to the Education Bill next week to reinstate the quotas plan.

He accused ministers of the "fastest U-turn in British political history".

Barry Sheerman, Labour chairman of the Commons education select committee, said ministers should not seem to be "rushing around in some sort of panic introducing measures at the last minute".

He added: "I'm always very concerned when politicians seem to be making policy on the hoof."

'Not needed'

Lord Baker's spokeswoman said the peer's amendment, compelling new state-funded faith schools in England to take up to 25% of pupils from outside the religion, would be tabled on Monday.

This would be similar to the scheme the government's abandoned scheme, she added.

ENGLAND'S FAITH SCHOOLS
Church of England 4,646
Roman Catholic 2,041
Jewish 37
Muslim 9 (expected)
Sikh 2

Earlier, Mr Johnson said he had reached a deal with Catholic Church and the Church of England to "ensure" they would reserve up to a quarter of places in their schools for children of other faiths or of no faith.

He added: "As we now have the support of the two major faith organisations in the country for our proposed way forward, I do not feel the legislative route is necessary or appropriate and no longer propose to lay an amendment to the Education and Inspection Bill."

Funding

But Lord Baker, who earlier this month dropped his own amendment imposing quotas after ministers had agreed to include similar plans in the bill, was furious.

POLICY CLIMBDOWN?
Any requirement to provide non-faith places, where local circumstances make it appropriate and subject to public consultation, would be in addition to the demand for faith places
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Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he accused Catholic leaders of using "deception" in their campaign against introducing quotas, by hinting that the plans would be extended to all existing faith schools, not just new ones.

He said the government "must impose some means of integration" when funding schools.

Otherwise there was a danger of creating educational "ghettos", particularly in more than 120 private Muslim schools which he said aspired to enter the state sector.

'Not sympathetic'

Vincent Nichols, the Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, said Mr Johnson understood it was "quite unacceptable to force into a new Catholic school 25% of people who were not particularly sympathetic to that faith".

Although the voluntary agreement does not affect Muslim schools, the Muslim Council of Britain welcomed it, with education spokesman Tahir Allam saying the compromise was "a good position to be in".

Under the government's abandoned plans, councils could have told new faith schools to take up to 25% of pupils from other religions, or no religion.

The Conservatives said they would not support Lord Baker's amendment, while the Liberal Democrats called the current situation a "dog's dinner".

Terry Sanderson, from the National Secular Society, said ministers had "given in to... religious pressure and I'm not sure whether it's because they recognise the arguments, or because they wanted to give the religious people what they wanted".


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
How the voluntary agreement will work in principle



SEE ALSO
Q&A: Faith schools and quotas
27 Oct 06 |  UK Politics
Faith schools quota plan scrapped
26 Oct 06 |  Education
Johnson in faith schools summit
24 Oct 06 |  Education
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

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