The new “free” faith schools: unregulated and discriminatory, says Andrew Copson
Critics of the free-school programme say it will reinforce a two-tier education system, with pushy middle-class parents far more likely to set up schools than those living in areas of social deprivation where better schools are desperately needed. Detractors also say religious groups and private schools will be the first to jump on the free-school model because they already have the know-how, experience and resources. They believe their fears were reinforced with the announcement of the first 16 schools, five of which were faith schools (two Jewish, one Hindu and one Sikh in addition to St Luke’s).
Aware that his flagship education policy could be derided as something that will only benefit the middle classes and the religious, Mr Gove is said to have told civil servants to hold back all but the most exceptional applications from faith groups that applied to be part of the September 2011 tranche.
Under current policy guidelines, which could of course change over the coming months, any faith group that wants to set up a free school will also have to reserve 50 per cent of its places to students of different faiths or no faith at all.
During the election campaign, the Conservatives said they hoped 3,000 free schools would be opened over the next 10 years, creating 220,000 new places with plans for 20,985 places in the first year of government alone. But budget restrictions now make those figures look hugely optimistic even though Mr Gove stressed the 16 were just the start of a programme which would be rolled out over the coming months. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that there had been 700 enquiries about opening free schools, 100 of which had led to applications being made to the Department of Education. Education officials are expecting a further 50 free schools to open in 2012, and 100 the following year.
This week’s announcement had the secularists up in arms. Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, believes free schools will allow religious communities to set “unregulated faith schools” and says the Government must resist the temptation to reduce the 50 per cent quota. “[Free schools] will give [religious groups] complete power over the curriculum while unburdening them from the need to raise their own funds,” he says. “Very few parents have the time, resources or local influence to set up a new school, but religious groups often have all of these.” He adds: “While the 50 per cent rule for free schools doesn’t go nearly far enough, it is at least an indication that Mr Gove believes religious discrimination should be curbed. By contrast, the recent lobbying campaign by religious groups demonstrates that many support segregation over inclusion. Mr Gove should cease trying to appease the religious lobby and instead use his powers to introduce open admissions policies for all schools.”
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]The new “free” faith schools: unregulated and discriminatory, says Andrew Copson,