Education Policy - HSLD's response
Immediately after Conference voted to adopt its new faith schools policy, we started work on our response to the party's more general education policy consultation.
We presented our submission just 14 days later, on 2nd April 2017.
Our response calls for democratic accountability to be returned to local communities, by giving local authorities or equivalent elected bodies strategic responsibility for the state schools in their areas and oversight of school admissions policies.
We report that the system is now heavily skewed against secular schools, because the local authorities that have traditionally been the main providers of secular schools are now excluded from opening or taking over schools. This and other factors mean that the proportion of secular schools continues to decline, even in areas that are already dominated by faith schools, and without regard for the wishes of local authorities or parents.
In order to ensure a fair balance of faith schools and secular schools, we call
- for local authorities to be able to open new schools or take over existing ones, just as other providers can;
- where schools are to be opened or taken over, for local needs, expressed by local parents and authorities, to determine the type of school, the sponsor and whether the school will be a faith school;
- for secular schools to be able to defend themselves from closure or merging into other schools, on equal terms with faith schools, and for local needs to be reflected in these decisions.
Schools run by some religious organisations can be extremely hostile environments for LGBT+ pupils, with prejudice against them, and low self-esteem, being actively reinforced by the schools' teachings, and we call for an explicit commitment to improve Ofsted monitoring and action in this area.
We call for the national curriculum to be extended to all state-funded schools but to be slimmed down heavily, to be made more stable and less politicised, and to include sex and relationship education, citizenship and a broad and inclusive religious education (covering religious and non-religious belief).
In some areas, there are major problems with unregistered (and therefore illegal) schools, relating to:
- protection of children from physical abuse;
- ensuring that children are in a physically safe and healthy environment;
- ensuring that children receive an education that is fit for purpose and prepares them for adult life;
- ensuring that state authorities are aware of children who are not receiving education in the state or recognised private school sectors, and that they do not entirely disappear off the radar.
We therefore call for the party to strengthen and enforce existing regulations, closing unregistered schools and where appropriate prosecuting those responsible; we also call for a legal duty on parents to register homeschooled children with their local authority.