Spring Report 2009: A report by our Chair on Accord’s progress since its launch
Accord was born on 1st September 2008
Personally I had been concerned about faith schools for several years, but I always felt I was a lone voice – certainly within the religious world. While I was able to raise the issue every now and then, there was no structure through which to link up with others or to urge a change of policy.
It was that sense of frustration that led to Accord, which aims to unite all those with issues about faith schools – be it their very existence or the way they operate.
Accord can claim to be doubly unique:
First, it goes beyond the stale arguments by those ideologically predisposed for or against faith schools. Instead, it is much more nuanced. It asks: what is the best interest of the children and society at large? It believes the answer is schools that are inclusive, tolerant and transparent.
Second, it is a broad coalition of both those who are religious and secular: Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, humanists, atheists; all of whom desire an educational system that is based on social cohesion – and not just as a slogan but in reality.
The actual birth of Accord was traumatic. Before the day was out, representatives of the religious groups which have faith schools had jointly produced a three-page press release which not only condemned us, but which deliberately tried to stereotype us as yet another secular conspiracy frothing at the mouth and trying to destroy all that was good in education.
There was also an avalanche of criticism in various religious papers, which served to give us a lot of prominence but which was also painful for Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus who value their faith without wanting faith schools.
Still, we did not turn the other cheek but have been forthright since then in putting our view forward, through radio and television interviews, as well as articles in various papers and on websites. And as well as criticism we received strong support from sources as diverse as the Economist and the Church of England Newspaper editorial.
We also kept in the headlines a fortnight later when Accord’s views were widely sought by the media on the opening of the first Hindu school in Britain.
Our response was simple: by dividing Hindu children from those of other faiths, there was now an enormous responsibility upon the school to work very hard to overcome the social barriers this could cause.
This in turn begs specific questions that apply to all faith schools, and which form the four key concerns of Accord (which will be particularly relevant to the forthcoming Equalities Bill):
- Admissions: should state funded schools operate admissions policies that take account of pupil’s religious belief, and which discriminate against those who come from what is deemed “the wrong faith” or no faith at all? This is the litmus test as to whether those schools are serving the local community or serving themselves.
- Employment: should state funded schools operate recruitment and employment policies that discriminate on grounds of religion. I can at least understand the argument that an RE teacher should be of a particular faith, but what about the Maths teacher, French assistant, kitchen staff or caretaker?
- Syllabus : as there is no National Curriculum for RE (why not ?) and as faith schools can opt out of the locally agreed SACRE syllabus (how come ?), how can we ensure they follow an objective, fair and balanced syllabus for education about religious and non-religious beliefs?
- Accountability: is it wise to have a system of inspection whereby special arrangements are made for faith schools that other schools do not have, which permits exemptions from the normal OFSTED regulation. Why should this be the case and why are faith schools not monitored like every other school?
Once the initial glare of publicity was over, the hard work began of campaigning for these reforms, targeting those most able to deliver. So Accord has met with government via the Department for Children, Schools & Families; with the Liberal Shadow Minister for Education and the Conservative Shadow Minister too, as well as other MPs and members of the Lords.
We have tried to expand the coalition with like-minded groups, both those in the educational world (from teachers union to educational think-tanks) and those from the religious communities (such as Christian clergy, the Chair of the Muslim Forum and the Hindu Academy).
We have also sought advice of, and made connections with, bodies that work in other spheres but who sometimes cross-over into the area of faith schools – such as the Runnymede Trust.
It is hard work, but we have found that there are many who profoundly agree with our position and are glad that such a forum exists.
There is definitely a new mood in the air: the rapid expansion of faith schools in the last two decades (without nearly enough public attention) is now being challenged by people who are uncomfortable at what has happened; people who feel that it is important that children from different backgrounds do not grow up as strangers, or even hostile to each other, but as fellow citizens.
What is more, independent evidence has recently emerged that admissions procedures are being abused and some state-funded faith schools are acting unethically: either by covertly charging parents or by selection procedures that discriminate against children from less academic backgrounds.
Moreover, the case for examining faith schools has recently received a boost from a report issued by a report entitled ‘Right to Divide’, published by the highly-respected Runnymede Trust. It endorses faith schools, but suggests ways of improving them, many of which answer the key questions of Accord listed above.
There have also been two major pieces of research by academics at the London School of Economics and the Institute of Education showing that religious admissions cause social segregation and don’t improve results over all.
And most recently we have seen the fruits of our hard work with the announcement of a new Lib Dem policy on faith schools. At the party’s Spring Conference in Harrogate on 7th March they announced that they will oppose the creation of new faith schools that discriminate in admissions and would require existing faith schools to prove that they are inclusive or loose state funding.
The policy also commits them to fighting for RE lessons that teach “about beliefs, not what to believe”, for the ability of children to withdraw themselves from collective worship on grounds of conscience and for the right of teaching and support staff to be appointed and promoted without regard to their personal beliefs.
It is another step towards our ultimate goal of changing legislation. Relying on the goodwill of governors or the common-sense of head-teachers is not enough. It is only by initiating legislation about admissions, employment and accountability that the goal of inclusive schools will be achieved.
So, to sum up the position so far: Accord is just over six months old, but we feel that we have started to make our mark….and we have created a vehicle that not only gives voice to concerns about faith schools but is in a position to press for change.
With the Equality Bill due to be published next week we know that the next few weeks and months will be busy. We will be in touch very soon to let you know how you can help, so please keep a look out for future emails
Wish best wishes,
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE
Chair, Accord http://www.accordcoalition.org.uk/
Teachers report ‘racist bullying’. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8014880.stm Children’s minister Delyth Morgan said racism in schools was "completely unacceptable". "Children are not born racist and we must work hard to ensure they are educated to be tolerant of difference, and stop bigoted views from outside schools spilling over into the playground," she said. Ref, when? ‘In The Playground For Faith And Belief’. UK.
Ministers and ‘troublesome priests’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8017388.stm
Smacking, Beating and Drugging: Children. Private Schools – Public Schools. Sexual Abuse. Church Schools, Faith Schools, Childcare Institutions. UK.
BAFTA Award – Documentary – Chosen http://www.chosen.org.uk/ ‘Selected Groomed Abused’
‘The Making Of Them’ Nick Duffell (Starvation with Kaolin and Morphine) http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=jRNVLgfJHKkC&pg=PA154&lpg=PA154&dq=Preparatory+School.+Kaolin+and+Morphine.&source=bl&ots=tVpRMR9mQj&sig=mqIWTBRqnfzXcvj7xq_sHXLv_KY&hl=en&ei=zffaSZeIM4GUjAf52YG-CA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1 Hundreds of girls heavily sedated in UK care homes during the 1970s and 1980s may be at risk of having children with birth defects, the BBC has found. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7985912.stm
Boarding ‘could transform the lives of some children’ http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8032961.stm
There is also however, a more personal answer. ‘Science tells us what we can know, but what we can know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know, we become insensitive to many things of very great importance. Theology, on the other hand, induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge, where in fact we have ignorance and by doing so generates a kind of impertinent insolence towards the universe. Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears is painful but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales (‘The Infantile Situation GB’ – ‘Identity and Violence’ Amartya Sen). To teach how to live without certainty and yet without being paralysed by hesitation, is perhaps, the chief thing that philosophy in our age can still do for those who study it.’ Ref, BR – Daddy. Ring a Scholar – A telephone and Internet helpline offering advice about the true teaching of Islam is being launched in the UK today http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8078344.stm And, ‘Hi-Tech Theology’ http://www.elhatef.com
Consultation on New Guidance for Religious Education in England
What is the issue?
On 30 April, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) issued new draft guidance on the teaching of Religious Education (RE) in English schools for public consultation (ending on 24 July). The guidance is intended to replace that issued in 1994 (Circular 1/94) which was widely believed, even at the time, to represent very poor advice on RE. The BHA was represented on the steering group that helped to produce the new draft, but it fails to address our two principal concerns in RE:
- that RE should be the study of both religious and non-religious beliefs;
- that humanists should have the same right to be full members of the local committees writing and overseeing RE syllabuses as religious people have.
We are now very concerned that the guidance will, at best, offer no improvements in these two areas and, at worst, undermine the positive developments that have occurred, in defiance of the previous guidance, in the years since 1994 (and especially since the Human Rights Act 1998).
What do we want?
We want the government to use the Human Rights Act to read references to ‘religion’ in the present law on RE as references to ‘religion or belief’. This would mean that non-religious philosophies such as Humanism would be included. In particular, we want the references to the content of RE as being about ‘principal religions’ to be read as ‘principal religions or beliefs’ and the eligibility for full membership of Standing Advisory Councils for RE (SACREs – the local committees that oversee RE) and Agreed Syllabus Conferences (ASCs – the local committees that set the RE syllabus) as a representatives of ‘religions’ to be read as ‘religions or beliefs’, giving humanists the right to be full members alongside the religious representatives.
The phrase ‘religion or belief’ is taken from the language of the Human Rights Act and it includes non-religious beliefs such as Humanism. The phrase ‘religion or belief’ is already used in the government’s national framework for RE (2004) and in the RE section of the secondary curriculum (2007) as well as in the proposed new primary curriculum (2009). In those places, it is made clear that it includes Humanism. It is very important that this should be the case in the new guidance, and that it should be made clear that this is the interpretation that should be given to the law on RE in light of the Human Rights Act*.
What can you do?
You can respond to the consultation, urging that the guidance should make it clear that RE should be the study of religious and non-religious beliefs and that humanists should be eligible for full membership of SACREs and ASCs. You can do this by downloading the questionnaire at http://www.qca.org.uk/qca_22295.aspx and completing it or you can complete it online by going to http://tinyurl.com/onrhct and registering your email address. You will then be emailed the link to the consultation.
When completing the consultation you can make use of the BHA’s response to the consultation which is at www.humanism.org.uk/reguidance
You can email your MP, using the BHA’s easy online facility at http://tinyurl.com/oerynv and urge him or her to make your views known to the government and support changing the guidance.
If you are a teacher, you could explore the possibility of your school making a response to the consultation and urging the changes we are looking for.
If you are a teacher of RE, or otherwise involved in RE as a professional, you can mention this in your own response to the consultation, and you can also contact the National Association of Teachers of RE http://www.natre.org.uk/ or Association of RE Inspectors Advisers and Consultants (AREIAC) http://www.areiac.org.uk/ and urge them to support the changes we are seeking.
If you are a member of a political party, you can write to the education spokesperson of your party to urge them to support the changes we are seeking. For Labour, this is Sarah McCarthy Fry on firstname.lastname@example.org , for Conservatives this is Michael Gove MP on email@example.com , for Liberal Democrats this is David Laws on firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are a member of a SACRE, whether as a humanist or not, you can urge your SACRE or local authority to make a response to the consultation supporting the changes we are seeking.
PLEASE DO ALL THE ABOVE insofar as you are in a position to do so. This is the most important issue we have had to deal with for many years and we need the maximum effort from everyone if we are to win our rights.
Please copy any submissions you make or correspondence you enter into on this subject to Paul Pettinger at the BHA ( email@example.com or by post to British Humanist Association, 1 Gower Street, London WC1E 6HD).
* The Human Rights Act at section 6 forbids discrimination on grounds of religion or belief by public authorities and in section 3 requires existing legislation to be “read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights”.
If you know anyone else who may be interested in taking this action, please feel free to forward this email to them!
Not already a BHA member? Join now and support our vital work!
A global education programme designed to foster understanding between religions has been launched by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8091098.stm @ http://tonyblairfaithfoundation.org/
"Children, I’ll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas—no matter who these other people are. Parents, correspondingly, have no god-given licence to enculturate their children in whatever ways they personally choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith.
In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense. And we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible, or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon." ‘What Shall We Tell The Children’ ‘Amnesty Lecture’ Oxford – Nicholas Humphrey. http://www.mindmeister.com/13207398
Also: children, prehistoric boy or girl, were totally absorbed in the activities of their parents (hypnotically so? Ref, ease of human indoctrination and wishing to believe – almost anything, esp – when young) Therefore society could not advance – parent to child, child becomes parent, and in exactly the same exacting mould: seen in some tribal cultures today – the ‘closed system’ of no cultural, and no social advance or of little or any scientific advances! Dr J.Bronowski. ‘A broad menu’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7630042.stm Jacob Bronowski ‘The Ascent Of Man’ ‘The Long Childhood’ http://www.bbcshop.com/History/Ascent-Of-Man-DVD/invt/bbcdvd1608 Sexual segregation in some tribes (natural state of homosexuality of puberty recognised as normal, even encouraged – a practise for the adult role – ‘perverted’ by any adult involvement) Re-segregation after the ‘myriad of types of initiation rites’ – homosexuality after an initiation rite is given up, for the young male or female, to play the full part in the adults or tribal forms, of the societies accepted forms and its structures of heterosexuality. "Even if homosexuality were, as a matter of fact, ‘unnatural’ (which it probably isn’t), that would not, by itself, justify us in morally condemning it." ‘The War For Children’s Mind’s’ Stephen Law.
Reform RE – Petition Number 10 Downing Street http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/reformRE/#detail