Beware of the Liberal Democrats’ policy on faith schools, a senior Roman Catholic Bishop has warned.
The Lib Dems want to remove faith schools’ ability to protect their ethos by selecting teachers who share a school’s faith position.
The party also says in its manifesto that faith schools should take children from families who may not support a school’s religious ethos.
Now the Rt Revd Malcolm McMahon has said that such moves would destroy the partnership between the state and churches.
As chairman of the Department for Education of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales Mr McMahon said that “Catholics should give it very serious consideration before they vote Liberal Democrat”.
He added: “Our position is that every person should have the right to bring up their children according to their consciences.”
The Lib Dem manifesto says the party would “ensure that all faith schools develop an inclusive admissions policy and end unfair discrimination on grounds of faith when recruiting staff, except for those principally responsible for optional religious instruction”.
Critics fear that the policy would threaten thousands of high-achieving faith schools across the country.
At the party’s spring conference last March the Lib Dems put forward the plans to strip faith schools’ ability to choose teachers on the grounds of faith.
But their policy puts the party at odds with current legislation.
Under existing employment equality laws, faith schools may preserve their religious ethos by selecting teaching staff who share the faith of the school.
The Lib Dems say only teachers responsible for religious instruction should be selected on religious grounds.
But supporters of faith schools say their success is down to their religious ethos – and that this ethos encompasses more than just religious instruction.
Last month the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said that faith schools encourage the attributes children need.
He said “faith schools tend to have a strong ethos that emphasises respect for authority, the virtues of hard work, discipline and a sense of duty, a commitment to high ideals, a willingness to learn, a sense of social responsibility, a preference for earned self-respect rather than unearned self-esteem, and the idea of an objective moral order that transcends subjective personal preference”.
And Lord Sacks concluded in his article for The Times newspaper: “One way or another, the critics should reflect on this simple question. If faith schools are so bad, why do thoughtful, often secular, parents think they are so good?”
In December faith schools came out on top of a list of England’s best primary schools.
Almost two-thirds of the 268 schools which achieved “perfect” SATs results in 2009 were Anglican, Roman Catholic or Jewish schools.
In 2008 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.”