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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Tories to oversee biggest expansion of religious schools since 19th century

The Conservative Party said this week that if it comes to power it will oversee the biggest expansion in the number of “faith schools” since the 19th century.

David Cameron

The Tories are proposing the establishment of “free schools” – which can be set up using public money by religious groups, parents, charities, businesses, universities and other not-for-profit organisations and would be outside local authority control. The blueprint, based on similar reforms in Sweden, has already been welcomed by the Churches as another opportunity for them to increase their influence in education.

In a speech this week, the Tory leader, David Cameron, said he was a great supporter of “faith schools” politically and personally. His own daughter goes to a Church of England school.

There are already about 7,000 state-run faith schools in England and several hundred more in the private sector, the vast majority of which are Christian. They have been criticised for abusing their (already privileged) entry privileges and for not teaching about other religions.

David Cameron said this week: “I support faith schools, I think they have a lot to bring to education. I’m in favour of choice and discretion. I think that actually drives up quality and standards in our education system. Faith schools often bring a culture and an ethos to a school that can help them improve. I'm a supporter politically and personally.”

In response to a further question, Mr Cameron said of the admissions procedure: “I think we need to try to make it less complicated, rather than more complicated, because I think faith schools are an important part of our system.”

The Conservatives say that if they win the election they will bring forward an education bill that will result in the biggest expansion of church schools since the establishment of thousands of ‘national’ schools almost 200 years ago.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “The idea that an unlimited expansion in the number of religious schools will continue to drive up standards is illogical. If there are to be no community schools, where will all the unsupported and disadvantaged children from deprived homes — the ones that the Church doesn’t want to know about — go? It’s at that point that the myth of the “religious ethos” causing this success will come crashing down. It is fallacious to suggest so-called free schools will extend “choice”.

See also:

Peter Hitchens: Who's condemning whom to the scrapheap?

Some dissenting voices about the Swedish model, even in Conservative ranks:

Conservatives fall out over policy for Swedish-style 'free schools'

Tory free schools plan flawed

Tory councillors attack Michael Gove's Free Schools policy

Published Fri, 29 Jan 2010