The Accord Coalition unites a wide range of member groups and individuals, who want all state funded schools to be made open and suitable for all children, regardless of their or their parents’ religious or non-religious beliefs.
Accord is very concerned that some schools do not properly respect the beliefs of teachers, parents and pupils, and that current legislation allows some schools to discriminate against them on the grounds of religion, serving to increase religious segregation (which can often act as a proxy for racial and ethnic segregation too), as well as allowing schools to provide a narrow education about the beliefs of others. Together, these ingredients can help to create environments where mistrust between groups can more readily grow.
Instead, the Coalition wants schools to fulfil their potential as engine rooms for cohesiveness, promoting a culture of questioning, respect, and a hunger for knowledge and for the exploration of values, where students develop their own identities and sense of place in the world, and where the rights of staff, families and children are properly respected. Accord wants the state funded school system to provide excellent education, and in so doing, to better advance the growth of mutual understanding, as it views mutual understanding as key to the future happiness of society.
The current public discourse around the role of religion in education continues to be contentious and vexatious, and suffers from people arguing from fixed ideological positions. Accord therefore enters the debate not only grounded on the shared values of its supporters, but also on solid evidence, and it is from this basis that it works for the following political aims:1. All state-funded schools should operate inclusive admissions policies that take no account of pupils’ – or their parents’ – religion or beliefs, and operate recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief.
Over a third of the state funded schools in England and Wales are faith schools and most of these can discriminate on the grounds of religion in their pupil admissions policy if oversubscribed, and in the recruitment and employment of all their teachers.
Faith schools are allowed to operate in these ways because they are exempted from various pieces of equalities and human rights legislation. Accord deplores this discrimination, not only because it helps to create religious and cultural silos in the education system, but because it is unfair.
Accord believes that that teaching posts should be open to those best qualified to fill them, (applicants can still uphold the ethos of a school, whatever their own personal background), and that pupil places should not be rationed according to the beliefs of children or their families. The Coalition applauds those faith schools that do not discriminate; these schools demonstrate that schools do not need the power to operate in these narrow and exclusive ways in order to maintain a religious ethos.
Accord considers it vital that pupils learn about the beliefs of others. Not only does this help provide important general knowledge, but it helps provide a path to good citizenship.
Most state funded schools provide RE according to a syllabus produced by their local authority responsible for education, while Academy schools and most faith schools are able to determine for themselves the RE they teach. Many schools already provide excellent RE, including some faith schools, but Accord is concerned that others provide RE that is narrow in scope and/or is instructional. Not only will giving pupils a core entitlement help to ensure they receive a broad and balanced education, but Accord believes it will also help to improve standards and practice.
There are a number of ways that such an entitlement could be delivered and defined, including through the introduction of a flexible national syllabus framework. Faith schools might still provide pupils with optional instructional RE, but only once they had provided pupils with their core RE entitlement.
In addition to providing high quality RE, Accord would like state funded schools to provide Citizenship and PSHE (which includes age appropriate Sex and Relationships Education). It considers that if children are not given thorough and high quality PSHE then their future health and wellbeing may be put at risk.
Accord believes that when state funded schools teach PSHE they should be required to provide it in a way that is accurate and balanced, and that endeavours to promote equality and encourages acceptance of diversity, including sexual diversity, and that these considerations should trump all others. Such an approach would not prevent schools from providing PSHE in a way that is appropriate to the ages or religious and cultural backgrounds of their pupils, and nor should it prevent them from reflecting a reasonable range of religious, cultural and other perspectives.
Accord also wants the provision of these subjects, along with RE, to be inspected like other curriculum subjects, as part of a single inspection regime. Currently the teaching of RE at most faith schools is inspected by an organisation that the school itself nominates, which brings into question the inspectors impartiality.
Accord believes that as society does not have a shared faith we cannot worship together. However, the law currently demands that state maintained schools provide daily Collective Worship of ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’, except at faith schools, which provide assemblies in accordance with the school’s faith.
In reality a great many schools flout these laws, some because they find the collective worship laws unworkable. Instead Accord believes the laws should be replaced with guidance for schools on providing inclusive assemblies that draw upon and forge shared values, investigating ethical and moral values from a variety of sources, including religious and philosophical. These assemblies could forward the spiritual, moral, social and cultural education of all pupils and staff, regardless of religion or belief, in an inclusive setting.
At the moment we have the worst of both worlds; oppressive laws that do not properly respect the autonomy of children, while a great many schools do not provide daily assemblies.
Accord was very disappointed that despite a strong challenge in its defence, the Education Act 2011 took away OFSTED’s duty to inspect upon how schools promoted community cohesion. OFSTED inspections were the primary means through which the government tried to ensure that schools were meeting their own duty to promote community cohesion, and the change has risked making schools’ duty almost meaningless.
OFSTED’s criteria for inspecting community cohesion were weak, as they ignored the impact of a school’s staff employment and pupil admissions policy, as well as its approach in the curriculum – these are arguably some of the most important areas in terms of how schools can improve or hinder the promotion of cohesion.
Accord therefore wants schools to again be inspected on how they promote community cohesion, but with revised and more thorough criteria than previously used.
For a more detailed insight into Accord’s key campaign aims, please see its positions paper webpage.