Equality Bill should shut faith schools say atheists

Faith schools should have their religious ethos undermined by the Equality Bill, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has said.

The BHA was responding to a letter published in the Times newspaper yesterday, which claimed that faith schools were ‘discriminatory’.

The BHA said in terms of the Equality Bill they would be working to “pressure Parliament to outlaw religious discrimination in our schools”.

In a statement yesterday Andrew Copson, Director of Education at BHA, said: “We too were deeply disappointed that the Equality Bill 2009 has simply imported the wide exceptions that allow state-funded faith schools to discriminate in their admissions, employment and curriculum.”

He added: “It is one of our core aims to campaign for an inclusive schools system, where children of all different backgrounds and beliefs can learn with and from each other.”

Faith schools often outperform other state schools and opponents suggest this is because they “cherrypick” pupils. But faith schools say their success is down to their religious ethos.

The schools are coming under increasing attacks from atheists because they select pupils who share the schools’ ethos.

In March a letter to the Guardian newspaper by leaders from across the UK’s major faiths argued that banning faith schools from selecting pupils who share their beliefs would be “unjust” and would undermine the schools’ 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.”

In July 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.

Earlier this year the National Union of Teachers (NUT) joined attacks advocating that faith groups should not be allowed to run schools.

At the NUT’s annual conference delegates debated a motion stating: “Religious groups, of whatever faith, should have no place in the control and management of schools.”

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