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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

More ‘faith schools’ on their way as Government announce latest wave of free schools

The Government has announced that 55 new state funded free schools are to open from September 2012 onwards. The 55 Schools include eleven schools which will be religiously designated.

Of these eleven, seven are Christian, and one each are Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh.

Stephen Evans, Campaigns Manager at the National Secular Society said: “As predicted, free schools are proving very popular with religious organisations. The latest wave of publicly funded religious schools may be good news for faith groups but they are extremely bad news for community cohesion”.

“Under the free schools programme, only 50% of admissions can be based on faith and the remaining 50% are supposed to be ‘open’ admissions. Few parents who do not share the faith of the school, particularly if it is a minority faith one, will be prepared to have their children educated in such an overtly religious setting.”

The NSS Executive Director took part in a Hard Talk BBC television debate some years ago with the headteacher of the Islamia infant school in Brent, northwest London, who deflected questions about cohesion by maintaining that the school had an open admissions policy. The presenter had to ask him numerous times before he eventually admitted that, in the many years the school had been founded, no non-Muslim pupils had ever been admitted.

Stephen Evans said: “There is no prohibition of the remaining 50% open admissions also being of the faith. In such circumstances, the 50% rule is a sham designed to shield politicians from the entirely justified charges that they are colluding in measures that are counter-cohesive. The effect spreads beyond the new free schools; their foundation will divert minority faith children from enrolling at other schools in the local area”

In 2010 Education Secretary Michael Gove assured the Jewish Chronicle that “new free schools could still have a clear Jewish ethos and once the 50 per cent quota had been reached, the remainder of places could be filled with Jewish children – as long as the admissions board did not enquire about faith”.

One of the free schools given the green light to open this week is The An-Noor Institute, a Muslim school linked to the local Jamia Mosque in Derby. The school’s website already has a section for prayer times, suggesting the school plans to go beyond the daily act of worship prescribed by law, not that the law itself prescribes any upper limit. Some such schools have been criticised over of excessive time spent on religious devotions, often harshly imposed, at the expense of other subjects.

One of the free school applications turned down this week was from the creationist Everyday Champions Church, which believes the Bible is an “accurate” depiction of God’s word, and that God is the “creator of all things”. The Church‘s leader Gareth Morgan told the BBC: “Creationism will be embodied as a belief at Everyday Champions Academy, but will not be taught in the sciences. Similarly, evolution will be taught as a theory. We believe children should have a broad knowledge of all theories in order that they can make informed choice."

Earlier this year, Michael Gove stressed that creationism will not be taught in free schools because it is “at odds with scientific fact”.

NSS Honorary Associate Professor Richard Dawkins this week criticised the teaching of creationism, particularly in Muslim schools. In an article for the Times Educational Supplement he described his experience of a visit to Madani High School, a state school in Leicester he visited while filming his documentary Faith Schools Menace?

Dawkins said: “Every single person I met believes if there is any disagreement between the Koran and science, then the Koran wins. I spoke to a group of girls, and to a senior science teacher who believes the world is 6,000 years old. It’s just utterly deplorable”.

Keith Porteous Wood, NSS Executive Director said: “Religion has negotiated a sinister cordon sanitaire so that creationism can be taught in RE but not science. We very much suspect that even that spurious distinction is ignored in some schools.”

Published Fri, 14 Oct 2011