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Agenda 2020 (2) - HSLD's response

April 11, 2016 4:02 PM

HSLD has just responded to the party's second "Agenda 2020" consultation.

The consultation covers a very wide range of policy areas, and we've focussed our response around two: "Should we be concerned about the effect of increasing faith school numbers on community cohesion? If so, what should we do about it?"

We argue that faith schools are not inherently damaging to community cohesion, as long as they do not seek to promote their religion to pupils to the exclusion or detriment of other beliefs, and do not select students or employees based on their parents' religious beliefs.

However, we

  • warn that the government's decision to remove all community schools from local authority control will greatly increase the proportion of faith schools;
  • show that faith schools run by minority faith groups tend to be far more ethnically segregated than schools with no religious character;
  • note that some faith schools are extremely hostile places for LGBT+ pupils and reinforce prejudice through their teachings and lack of action against bullying.

Our response calls for the party to reaffirm existing policies on religion in schools,

  • banning selection by ability, aptitude or faith by new schools;
  • abolishing discrimination against teachers and other school employees based on their religion or belief;
  • ending the existing obligation on all non-religious schools to hold daily acts of Christian worship;
  • allowing pupils to opt out (or be opted out by their parents) of all acts of collective worship;
  • ensuring that religious education is inclusive, and teaches pupils what people believe rather than what to believe;
  • allowing faith schools to provide religious instruction, but allowing pupils to opt out or be opted out by their parents;
  • making the school curriculum reflect the diversity of the country.

We reiterate that the party's existing policy on religion-based discrimination in admissions to existing faith schools needs to be reviewed.

The existing policy would allow local authorities to "withdraw state-funded status" from faith schools that could not "demonstrate the inclusiveness of their intakes" - in other words, the only action local authorities could take would be to effectively close down local schools, which would be unworkable. But in any case the government's recently-announced plans to end all local authority involvement in schools would render this policy irrelevant.

The next stage of the process will be a policy paper and a motion to the Brighton Conference this Autumn.

To see our 7-page response in full, click here.