The U.K. could be poised to abandon plans that would have allowed new publicly funded religious schools to admit students of only one faith.
The failure to change the current regulations will leave in place caps and quotas that require some new faith academies to also allow students of other religious backgrounds as well.
Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of schools in the U.K., dropped a recent hint that the government’s plans to allow single-faith schools (i.e. exclusively Christian, Muslim or Jewish institutions that allow in only students from one particular faith) could be in danger, proclaiming that she opposes anything that would increase “segregation.”
“Admission 100% on faith leads to increased levels of segregation within communities,” Spielman told the The Times. “I am uncomfortable with anything that leads to increased segregation.”
Currently, the government can require some faith-based schools to allow in students of other faiths, requiring that up to 50 percent of a student body reach this benchmark. The fear among some is that schools predominantly comprised of certain worldviews can lead to either alienation or radicalization of students, The Times reported.
Nick Weller, chief executive of Dixons Academies who runs numerous local schools, said he believes the divisions that can be caused by some schools being too monolithic are quite problematic.
“I think it’s unhealthy in a city like Bradford for two communities to live separate lives, which by and large they do. You could say Bradford is almost two communities – the Muslim community and the white community,” he told Radio 4. “Families will ignore the school that is nearest them because it is predominantly of one – the ‘wrong’ – ethnic group and they will send them a little bit further down the road to a school where they feel more comfortable.”
If plans to lift restrictions aren’t passed and the 50 percent requirement remains, the Catholic Church might not carry through with the 40-50 new schools it was planning to open to help accommodate the influx of Catholics that have been immigrating to the U.K. Plans for those schools were crafted after Conservative politicians announced intentions to scrap the multi-faith requirement.
According to The Daily Mail, axing the pledge to do away with the quota could “lead to a new education crisis,” as these schools, which are owned by religious groups, are free to the public and help serve various education needs within the U.K.
“Faith schools have to follow the national curriculum, but they can choose what they teach in religious studies,” a U.K. government website explains. “Faith schools may have different admissions criteria and staffing policies to state schools, although anyone can apply for a place.”
Here’s more from a Parliament document:
The Government funds many different types of ‘faith school’ – i.e. schools which are designated as having a faith character. Currently, around one third of state-funded schools in England have a faith designation. Faith schools can either be maintained by the local authority, or operate outside of local authority control (in the case of academies and free schools).
The vast majority of faith schools in England have a Christian faith designation, but there are also a small number of schools with other faith designations – including Muslim, Jewish and Sikh. Schools with a faith designation are able to use faith criteria in their oversubscription criteria, but they must (with the exception of grammar schools) offer a place to any child, where a place is available. Dependent on school type, having a faith designation may impact also on staffing policy, what is included in the Religious Education curriculum, and the ownership of the school buildings.
You can find out more about how faith schools work in the U.K. here.
Considering the U.S. debate over the separation of church and state, it’s certainly interesting to see how other countries deal with relations between religion and government.