Banning faith schools from selecting pupils who share their beliefs would be “unjust” and would undermine their ethos, says a group of religious leaders.
In a letter to The Guardian newspaper, leaders from across the UK’s major faiths argue that faith schools already have restricted selection powers.
They say it would be perverse to limit these further, when it is the faith-based values of these schools that make them popular with parents.
The letter comes just days after a new report commissioned by Research and Information on State Education (RISE) said faith schools and academies should lose the power to form their own selection criteria.
In the letter the religious leaders argue: “With faith schools making up over a third of the state schools in the UK, millions of parents are choosing them and only in cases where schools are full to capacity can faith be used as a criterion for allocating places.”
The letter continues: “The idea of removing one of the means by which these schools of religious character protect and enhance their valued ethos would be an unjust way of responding to the increasing demand for them.”
Writing in light of a Liberal Democrat debate on education policy this weekend, the multi-faith coalition reiterated the importance of faith schools during a time of “genuine concern about societal breakdown”.
They stated that “faith schools are not merely teaching citizenship, tolerance, cohesion and respect as academic subjects, but living them as part of their ethos”.
Last year, Revd Jan Ainsworth, the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, said: “Some seem to believe that the Christian ethos, which is so valued by parents, is like a sort of magic dust that is sprinkled on church schools simply by association.
“But it is, in fact, achieved through the hard work of staff and governors in building a learning community that is underpinned with Christian values.”
Faith schools have come under increasing attack from critics who say they should not be allowed to choose pupils who share their beliefs.
Last year, the Centre for Policy Studies accused the Government of conducting a “witch hunt” targeting faith schools in order to impress the secular lobby.
In September faith schools came under further attack when a new coalition of teachers’ groups and think-tanks said faith schools should be forced to open their doors to pupils and staff who do not sign up to their ethos.
The coalition included the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the theological think-tank Ekklesia, and the British Humanist Association. They said faith schools should not be allowed to ‘discriminate’ against students and teachers on the grounds of their beliefs.
In December a report from the Runnymede Trust said that faith schools “should remain a significant and important part of our education system”.
But, it said, they should be prevented from using religious affiliation as a basis for admitting pupils.