Shadow Education Secretary warns of religious and ethnic segregation

June 11, 2015

Dr Tristram Hunt MP, the Labour Party’s Education Spokesman, has highlighted this week religious and ethnic segregation in the school system as a ‘thorny’ issue requiring addressing. Writing in The Guardian about how his Party should approach education policy, he noted:

“Then there is the medium-term project of asking the difficult questions about the future direction of education policy outside the election cycle … More thorny is the question of religion, ethnicity and school provision. When every mosque, temple, synagogue, church, chapel and gurdwara wants its own free school, what hope have we for a national education system that integrates rather than segregates?”

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘The current way religion and belief is negotiated in the school system, with privileges for some groups to act in narrow and exclusive ways, cannot be sustained. This is partly because the state funding of faith schools is being called into question by public opinion, and partly because Britain’s religion and belief profile is changing quickly, with a growth in the number of the non-religious and increasingly religious plurality.

‘Society has two choices. It could try to ensure greater equity by opening a new wave of minority faith schools. But this would be disastrous for community cohesion, with more and more children growing up in ethnically segregated environments and more families being turned away from local schools because of having the wrong beliefs. Alternatively society moves towards making schools shared spaces that are open and suitable for all children, regardless of their religion or beliefs or those of their family.’

‘The longer these problems go unaddressed, the worse they will get, and our leaders need to set out practical steps to de-escalate the situation and make state funded schools much more inclusive. However, recognising that there is a problem is an important first step and Tristram Hunt is to be congratulated on identifying the key issue that so many have been frightened of naming.’

Many of the best rated schools are faith schools because they admit an above average number of local children from more affluent backgrounds, especially schools that operate religiously selective admission policies. A third of the state funded schools in England and Wales are faith schools, but as 99% are Jewish or Christian many of the best rated schools are effectively closed those of other beliefs, making the education system systematically discriminatory.

An ICM poll conducted in August 2010 for Channel 4 found that 59% of adults in Great Britain thought ‘Schools should be for everyone regardless of religion and the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind’. An Opinium survey in June 2014 painted a similar  picture, finding that 58% were opposed to faith schools, with 35% of the whole sample of respondents believing the state should not fund them and 23% recording that they should be banned altogether.

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