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Spring conference- tackling religious discrimination in faith schools

March 11, 2013 5:29 PM

We're back from Lib Dem Spring Conference, where we took every opportunity to raise awareness of religious discrimination in faith schools.

THE DEBATE: EVERY CHILD TAUGHT BY AN EXCELLENT TEACHER

Our amendment may not have been selected for debate, but HSLD Chair Toby Keynes was the first person called in the debate and had enough time to point out just how many state-funded faith schools are able to reject would-be teachers, for ANY subject, on the basis of their religion, and how much this narrows the talent pool of teachers that these schools can draw on. Another amendment, from Cllr Liz Green, was overwhelmingly carried and welcomed the coalition's decision to ban free schools from teaching creationism as scientific fact.

CONSULTATIVE SESSION: ELECTION MANIFESTO 2015

This session was the first step in the long process of developing our party's manifesto for the next General Election, and conference reps were invited to make brief (one-minute) speeches. Amazingly, both Richard Church and Toby Keynes were called to speak.

Richard concentrated on discrimination by state-funded faith schools against children on the basis of the faiths of their parents, while Toby called for the party to demonstrate, in our manifesto, the gulf between our party's policies and what Michael Gove is doing to our schools.

THE FRINGE MEETING: RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION IN EDUCATION - A HALF-TERM REPORT

The theme continued with our fringe meeting in the evening, chaired by Jenny Shorten. Over 70 people heard our three speakers make the point that religious selection is increasing as the coalition government allows the creation of more faith-based academies and free schools.

  • Professor Ted Cantle, the author of the official report on the Oldham riots told us how whole communities are living separate lives, where they experience little of the culture and outlook of neighbouring communities of a different faith. Faith-based schools are having a major impact on these divisions, denying young people the valuable experience of sharing the culture of others.
  • Jeremy Rodell of the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign told us of the local campaign against the creation of a new Catholic school that will effectively exclude 90% of Richmond's children on faith grounds. He called for a simple message that no child should be denied access to a school because of the religious beliefs of their parents.
  • John Howson of the Liberal Democrat Education Association reminded us that faith schools do not have to practice religious discrimination: many Church of England Voluntary Aided schools choose not to do so. He pointed out how difficult it is to deny public funding for schools run by crazier and more zealous religious groups, whilst it continues to fund so many CofE and Catholic schools, and he pointed to the influence that LibDem councillors can have on the admissions policies of the remaining Local Education Authority schools.

THE EXHIBITION STAND

As usual, our stand attracted plenty of interest, including a visit from Mike Thornton, newly-minted MP for Eastleigh, who took the opportunity to tell us that he shared our objections to religion, any religion, being forced on people.

AND NEXT.......

Spring Conference may be over, but religious discrimination by faith schools remains our key theme for 2013.

How can you get involved? We'll keep you posted.