Failure to protect autonomy of pupils and institutional religious discrimination at faith schools highlighted in major new study

September 13, 2012

A new report investigating matters of equality and human rights in relation to religion and belief in England and Wales has been published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The study looked at issues throughout society, but paid special attention to school age education, and highlighted a range of concerns.

One concern identified related to the faith-based admissions policies operated at many faith schools. The authors questioned whether the Government had demonstrated whether such discrimination was proportionate or even necessary, and questioned the legitimacy of the arrangements.

Another concern highlighted was the wide discretion given to most faith schools to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief in the employment of all teachers, without any requirement to demonstrate that such treatment was a legitimate or justified occupational requirement. The report brought to attention questions over whether such arrangements were legal under European Union law.

The report also looked at the requirements for daily collective worship in state funded schools, and the ability of most state funded faith schools to provide instructional Religious Education. It questioned whether the provision for parents to opt their children out from these activities property protected the rights and autonomy of pupils, and it observed that the current arrangements appeared ‘out of step’ with existing policy and practice concerning religion and belief.

The report predicted that the issues it highlighted would be heightened by the growth in the number of faith schools operating under the current legal regime. It urged that further research be carried out to monitor the practical impact of religious discrimination in admissions and employment in faith schools, as well as how the opts outs from mandatory worship and Religious Education were working.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said ‘The report’s findings do not come as a surprise, but they not only highlight some of problems of discriminatory practices in faith schools, and the failure of some schools to respect the autonomy of pupils, but also bring into question the very legality of such arrangements.

‘The educational system should be the very last place to have built-in discriminatory procedures and it set an appalling example to children. We therefore urge the Government to cut back the wide-ranging powers of that state funded faith schools currently enjoy in both pupil admission and teacher employment. We also support the report’s conclusion that what is happening in schools needs to be monitored very carefully, so as to prevent further erosions of fairness.’



‘Religion or belief, equality and human rights in England and Wales’ can be found at

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