Search This Blog

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Unholy row over "faith" schools

An unholy row has developed between the UK government and religious schools and their supporters over allegations that some schools are flouting admissions policy.

At the centre is the Schools Secretary Ed Balls, who is accused of an outrageous attack on 87 Jewish, Anglican and Catholic schools and undermining their religious ethos.

"The schools were reprimanded for using banned admissions policies to weed out children from poor homes, including charging parents up-front fees for ostensibly free state education," according to a story in the Daily Telegraph, which continues:

One Anglican and five Jewish schools were identified as asking for "voluntary" contributions as a condition of entry. One Jewish primary wanted almost £2,700 a year for extra security and Jewish studies classes, which are not funded by the taxpayer.

Balls is accused of trying to divert attention from the fact that 100,000 parents failed to get their their kids into the schools of their choice.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said in a statement, "All parties accept that financial contributions must be voluntary. It is important to remember that these are primarily fees for security or religious instruction, neither of which is paid for by the Government."

Nor should "religious instruction" be paid for by the government. But security? What do they mean? Do they need extra security over and above other buildings? If so, what is the threat? If there's an identifiable, constant threat, where are the police? But we digress.

Kevin Hoare, head of Finchley Catholic High School, spoke on behalf of other heads in the borough, describing the list as a "smokescreen" and accusing the government of attacking religious schools.

"There is an anti-faith-schools agenda at the moment and this may be part of it," he said.

Given the British government's willingness to kowtow to people of questionable beliefs of all stripes and hues, is this a credible accusation? Has there been such a sea change since disturbingly religious Tony Blair left office?

For his part, Balls insists that there's no war on religion-based education, insisting that the Catholic Education Service, Church of England and Board of Deputies of British Jews back the new admissions code. The schools' "credibility" depends on their operating fair admissions, he says, and has ordered town halls to crack down on schools flouting admissions rules.

No comments: