The last census radically over-estimated the number of religious people in England and Wales, leading to policies which favoured religious people and organisations. Nowhere is this more pressing than in the area of education, where radical policy changes have been made allowing a massive expansion of state maintained faith schools. This is something that we, at the BHA, are passionately opposed to; and it constitutes a central reason why we think it is vital that the Government is given a more accurate picture of religiosity this census.
Why, you might ask, should you be worried about the expansion of state supported faith schools? First (and importantly for those of you who have tried to get your child into your local school): faith schools are allowed to discriminate in their admissions process, meaning that they can give preference to children from families who share the religion of the school. Not only does this discriminate against children who don’t belong to the ‘right’ religion (as if children can actually ‘belong’ to a religion at such a young age!), it also is widely recognised as leading to segregation along religious and socio-economic lines. Second, some faith schools are allowed to reject otherwise qualified applicants when hiring teaching staff because they are of the ‘wrong’ or no religion. Third, standard faith schools have freedom with respect to the RE syllabus they teach. They can, if they choose, only teach one religion, and teach it as fact. Similarly, they have the freedom to teach vital subjects like sex and relationships education from a religious vantage point: if any more is taught than the basic biological processes of science classes, it may well be taught in ways that are homophobic or gender discriminatory.
Remember, these are practices being funded by the state. It is tax-payers’ money, which is in scarce supply, that is supporting this discrimination and potential indoctrination, rather than being used to move towards a comprehensive and inclusive education for all children.
And things are only going to get worse. In July last year, the Government rushed the Academies Act through Parliament (using processes normally reserved for legislation around terrorism), which allows all state schools to apply for ‘Academy’ status. If they are successful in their application, the school need only stay within the wide remit of teaching a ‘broad, balanced’ curriculum: that is, it need not follow the national curriculum. However, by ‘freeing’ religious Academies from the national curriculum without sufficient safeguards, children are at risk of being exposed to and taught extreme religious views presented as facts, including creationism. Furthermore, Academies are able to allocate up to 100% of their admissions on the basis of faith alone.
Soon enough, Academies won’t be a minority: all schools can apply to be an Academy, and many already have. Even more worrying is the fact that in the current Education Bill, it is proposed that any local authority wishing to open a new state maintained school should first seek proposals for the establishment of an Academy. This means that all new schools will be automatically be proposed as an Academy: a frightening prospect indeed.
The Census data from 2001 has been used repeatedly to justify these policies, despite the fact that surveys have repeatedly shown that the majority does not approve of faith schools.
Make sure the Government can’t use the data like this again: if you are not religious, make sure you tick ‘No Religion’.
If you want to do more to stop the expansion of faith schools, visit http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/what-you-can-do-to-help/edbillaction to take action on the current Education Bill.