New faith school award scheme makes a mockery of inclusivity, says rabbi

A NEW church schools award scheme, which turns a blind eye to discriminatory and admissions policies regarding pupils and staff, has been slammed by the chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain.

Dr Jonathan Romain

He said:

Some faith schools do not discriminate on religious grounds in their employment and admissions policy, and instead see their contribution to the education of children, regardless of their background, as an expression of their religious missions.

However, there are other faith schools that actively damage community cohesion, by only admitting staff and children from a particular background. These schools help create religious ghettos where pupils can grow up removed from those from different backgrounds.

Such schools undermine understanding between different communities and create an environment where mistrust between groups can more readily grow, potentially storing up problems for future generations to come.

The Church Schools Award, launched this week with the support of the Church of England’s National Society and education division of the Methodist Church, emulates the Accord Coalition’s own inclusivity Award, which was launched in 2009.

The new church school award deliberately ignores the admissions and employment policies of schools that discriminate against children and staff on religious grounds, while at the same time purporting to celebrate Christian schools that advance “community cohesion and global citizenship.”

This discrepancy “makes a mockery” of claims to promote genuine inclusion, says the Accord Coalition, which draws together a range of religious and non-religious education reform groups.

By contrast, the Coalition points out that its own Award is open to all schools and looks at all aspects of how those schools operate. It aims to reward those that do the most to function in inclusive ways and build bridges between different ethnic and religion or belief communities, irrespective of their foundation.

Romain added:

We welcome attempts to improve community cohesion, but the commitment of the Church Schools Award towards inclusivity and advancing community cohesion seems at best insincere, and at worst a distraction from the negative effects that religious discrimination of many faith schools has on wider society. It is very troubling therefore that the Church of England and Methodist Church have chosen to support the Church Schools Award on this basis.

The Church School Awards will be presented at a ceremony at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, on 24 March 2011.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, a co-founder of the Accord Coalition, said:

It is vital to encourage all educational establishments in fostering good community relations. This is something which needs to be based on personal contact between children from different backgrounds in and out of school, not just textbook theory.

In this context, it is extraordinary and saddening that the new Church School Awards appear to have been established deliberately to bypass scrutiny of some key factors in overcoming lack of integration and cohesion­ – namely, the discriminatory policy framework on admissions and employment which allow publicly-funded religious foundation schools to favour or disfavour pupils and teachers on the basis of their faith affiliation or belief.

Such discrimination needs to be brought to an end, and the churches should be at the forefront of supporting such reform on Christian grounds, rather than seeking to ignore or disguise the problem for sectional advantage.

Meanwhile, we learn that The government has banned the largest sponsor of academies from taking on new schools until it dramatically improve the ones it already runs.

According to the Guardian, The United Learning Trust (ULT) was called into the office of the schools secretary, Ed Balls, last week and told it could not sponsor any more schools until it had driven up standards in the 17 it runs and the two due to launch next September.

It follows the spectacular failure of ULT’s Sheffield academies, which have been plagued with behavioural problems, have struggled to improve results and were judged inadequate by Ofsted inspectors.

The problems raise questions about government – and opposition – plans for large chains of independently run academies.

ULT is an Anglican charity chaired by the former Conservative education minster Dame Angela Rumbold, and includes the former archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey on its board. It is the largest academy sponsor and also runs a chain of 10 private schools.

HAT TIP: BarrieJohn (ULT report)