Warning bell sounded over new religious Free Schools

July 20, 2012

crayon-rainbowThe Prime Minister and Education Secretary Michael Gove have announced this week that a further 102 Free Schools – one of the Government’s flagship educational ventures – are to open in 2013 and beyond. This follows on from the first tranche of 24 Free Schools that were opened in 2011, and the 50 or so expected to open this September.

Of the 102 Free Schools, almost a third – 33 – are set to have either a religious character or ethos. The vast majority of existing state funded faith schools are Christian, but of the newly announced batch of Free Schools 5 will be Sikh, 3 Jewish and 3 Muslim schools, heralding even greater variety within the faith school sector. Meanwhile, many of the other Free Schools will offer a specialism with a narrow appeal, while 3 would like to teach creationism as a valid scientific theory, despite the proposition having been widely rejected by the scientific community.

Free Schools, as a type of Academy School, can teach what they like in Religious Education and are free from teaching the National Curriculum. While this may encourage greater innovation in schools, it also creates a platform that allows providers with a religious agenda to indoctrinate children in one particular faith, and to limit their knowledge in subjects such as science and human biology.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, said ‘The Government should be much more vigilant against the potential dangers inherent in the Free School model. Free Schools may cause greater segregation in the education system, and offer a route into the state funded system for untested providers, who may wish to offer pupils with a narrow understanding of beliefs different from that of the school.

‘It is therefore vital that the Government insists on rigorous powers of inspection of Free Schools and Academies, lest their freedoms are misused. It is particularly worrying that Ofsted now no longer has to inspect schools on how they act to promote community cohesion, that the frequency of school inspections at many schools is being reduced, and that there is no oversight of the kind of RE that Academy Schools offer.

‘The ultimate goal must be that children receive an education that is broad, tolerant and transparent, and that state funded system does not empower those who would mitigate against social cohesion in our schools.’

2 Responses to Warning bell sounded over new religious Free Schools

  1. Odile Horsfall on August 21, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Is it possible in England to go to a non religious state school ?

    • Paul Pettinger on August 23, 2012 at 10:54 am

      About a third of state funded schools in England and Wales are faith schools – that is they have a registered religious character with government, while a handful of other state funded schools have a religious ethos. These schools are not registered as faith schools, but may be run by a group with a religious foundation, which may in turn influence aspects of the school’s working and ethos.

      However, all state funded schools in both countries are supposed to hold a daily act of collective religious worship – the norm is for schools to hold an act of worship of a wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character, while non-Christian faith schools hold worship in accordance with the school’s faith. Therefore if could be argued that under the law there should not be any truly non-religious state funded schools.

      Accord does not take a view on the desirability of having state schools with a religious or philosophical foundation, and wants state funded schools to be open and suitable for all, regardless of people’s or their family’s beliefs. On the question of school assemblies, Accord would like all state funded schools to try and forge shared values, and investigate and explore ethical and moral questions from a variety of sources, including religious and philosophical ones. However, mandated worship goes against this vision, and Accord wants the current laws that demand daily collective worship to be repealed, and replaced with guidance on providing high quality inclusive assemblies.

Leave a Reply to Odile Horsfall Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Accord depends on your support

Please give.

Sign up

find us on Facebook

News history