Former Minister of State for Schools, Lord Knight of Weymouth, has revealed in a comment piece in the Times Educational Supplement this week how coordinated pressure by the Catholic Church scuppered Government plans 10 years ago to require all state funded faith schools to reserve a proportion of their places for pupils from outside of each school’s faith. Lord Knight also warned that ‘Relaxing faith schools admissions rules risks the divisive ghettoisation of education’.
Lord Knight served as Minister of State for Schools between May 2006 and June 2009. In October 2006 the Government put forward a proposal – that enjoyed support from many opposition Parliamentarians – for faith schools to admit a 25% quota of pupils who did not share the school’s faith but, as Lord Knight reveals in his latest article, ‘The following Sunday, priests preached against us from the pulpit and the feedback from Labour MP’s the following week was not pretty. We performed a delicate and rapid three-point turn.’ He has recommended that the present Government now repeats such a policy u-turn and goes back on its plan to scrap the current rule which limits new faith schools from not selecting more than half of their pupils on religious grounds.
Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘Religious mixing in schools is not a threat to belief or identity but, by boosting the growth of trust and mutual understanding, helps create the conditions where diversity and difference is better accepted. Lord Knight provides an insight into the way that national faith schools policy has been steered not by evidence, but defensive and misguided reactions from some religious leaders. This is an unhealthy environment in which to forge public policy and has been to the detriment of the long term health of society. Schools are the very state funded institutions that should be equipping young people for life in a mixed-belief society, not serving to segregate and undermine cohesion.’