BHA: Peers critical of Government ban on BHA helping parents challenge unlawful school admissions

From the British Humanist Association, 12 May 2016:

In a debate in the House of Lords , parliamentarians once again voiced their opposition to the Government’s proposed ban on civil society organisations raising concerns about schools’ unlawful admission arrangements. The British Humanist Association, whose joint report with the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) published last year revealed that virtually all religiously selective schools in England were failing to comply with the School Admissions Code, says parents and children ‘will be the only ones to lose out’ if the ban goes ahead, and has called on the Government to reverse its decision.

Limits on who will be allowed to object to school admissions arrangements were proposed earlier this year by the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who claimed that the move was designed to ‘stop vexatious complaints against faith schools by secularist campaign groups’. However, after over 60 questions were tabled in Parliament on the issue by MPs and peers from a range of parties, Schools Minister Lord Nash was forced to admit that the overwhelming majority (87%) of the BHA’s and FAC’s objections to the admission arrangements of religiously selective schools had been upheld.

Indeed, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, to whom objections to school admission arrangements must be submitted, found at least one violation in every school that the investigation covered. These violations included schools directly discriminating on the basis of race and gender, failing to properly prioritise children in care, and unlawfully asking for information that they did not need, such as parents’ countries of origin, their medical history, or whether or not they spoke English as a second language.

Except for the Minister responding to the debate, Baroness Evans, every peer who contributed to the debate was critical of the Government’s proposals. Shadow Education Spokesperson Lord Watson described the ban as ‘a clear case of shoot the messenger rather than address the problem’, while All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) Secretary Baroness Massey labelled it as ‘counterproductive’ and ‘a nonsense’. Echoing these comments, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Lord Storey commented that far from being ‘vexatious’, it was thanks to the BHA and FAC ‘that many wrongs have been righted’, and APPHG member Lord Desai added that the BHA’s work on admissions was ‘for the good of the education system’. Former APPHG Chair Lord Taverne also contributed, stating that ‘the complexity of some schools’ admissions policies seems designed to confuse and mislead.’

The BHA’s Campaign Manager Richy Thompson said, ‘The message in Parliament last night was clear. Schools that seek to bend admission rules to manipulate their intakes must be held to account. The report we published last year may be an inconvenient truth for the faith school sector, but the Department for Education’s decision to back the law breakers, punish the whistleblowers, and seemingly ignore the rights of children altogether, is nonsensical. We’re glad that those speaking in last night’s debate agree and we will continue to push not only for the ban to be reversed but also for a fairer and more transparent admissions system to be introduced.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3078

Read the full debate: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2016-05-11/debates/16051156000172/SchoolAdmissionsCode

See the BHA’s previous news item ‘Department for Education acknowledges 87% of objections to school admissions labelled ‘vexatious’ by Education Secretary were upheld by adjudicator’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/02/26/department-for-education-acknowledges-87-of-objections-to-school-admissions-labelled-vexatious-by-education-secretary-were-upheld-by-adjudicator/

See the BHA’s previous news item ‘Parliamentarians and wider public denounce Government move to ban BHA from raising concerns about schools admissions’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/02/19/parliamentarians-and-wider-public-denounce-government-move-to-ban-bha-from-raising-concerns-about-school-admissions/

Read the BHA’s letter to the Secretary of State: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016-01-28-Letter-from-the-BHA.pdf

Read the Secretary of State’s response: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Letter-from-Nicky-Morgan-to-Andrew-Copson-19-02-2016.pdf

Read the Department for Education’s press release announcing the proposed ban: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/parents-to-get-greater-say-in-the-school-admissions-process

Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘Government moves to ban organisations from exposing law-breaking schools unfairly restricting access to children and parents’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/01/25/government-moves-to-ban-organisations-from-exposing-law-breaking-schools-unfairly-restricting-access-to-children-and-parents/

Read the BHA’s comment piece in the Independent ‘Is Nicky Morgan on the side of children or faith organisations’: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/is-nicky-morgan-on-the-side-of-children-or-faith-organisations-a6837811.html

Read the BHA/FAC report ‘An Unholy mess: How virtually all religiously selective schools are breaking the law: https://humanism.org.uk/2015/10/01/an-unholy-mess-new-report-reveals-near-universal-noncompliance-with-school-admissions-code-among-state-faith-schools-in-england/

Read the FAC’s briefing on the report: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/anunholymess-briefing/

The Fair Admissions Campaign wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the Accord Coalition, the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and LecturersBritish Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education AssociationLiberal Youth, the Local Schools NetworkRichmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

BHA: Telford boy told he can’t ride bus to school with other children because he doesn’t go to church

From the British Humanist Association on 11 May:

Note: Jay Harman of the BHA will be talking to Shropshire Humanist Group about faith schools on 16 June. All concerned are welcome.

A pupil in Telford has been told that he cannot ride a council-run bus to school along with his classmates because ‘he’s not Catholic’, it has been reported. The bus serves the Holy Trinity Academy in Priorslee, which was opened in 2015 jointly by the local Roman Catholic and Anglican dioceses, and despite the bus being operated by Telford and Wrekin Council, it is not open to children at the school who are either not religious or belong to a minority religion. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has once again called on the exemptions in the Equality Act 2010 allowing for discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the provision of school transport to be scrapped.

Speaking about the situation, the father of the boy involved stated that the ‘the bus stops two minutes from the front door’, ‘but he was told that because he’s not Catholic, even though he goes to the school, he can’t use it’. A spokesperson for Telford and Wrekin Council said ‘Transport assistance is offered to pupils who are baptised Catholics and pupils whose families are faithful and regular worshippers in a Church of England Parish Church or other Christian affiliated churches if they live over the three-mile distance criteria for secondary aged pupils.’

Remarkably, discrimination of this kind is entirely legal, as the provision of school transport by local authorities is exempted from equalities legislation. The BHA has previously raised concerns about this exemption with the Department for Education, stating in their response to a 2014 consultation on the issue that ‘Providing one group of parents extra choice over others is unfair, and the nature of the discretionary spending likely causes religious and ethnic segregation’.

The BHA’s Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman said, ‘Discretionary transport for children attending “faith” schools is unfair, discriminatory, and also completely unnecessary. Religious families are already given greater choice of schools than non-religious families as a result of the religious discrimination permitted in school admissions, and this is only exacerbated by the provision of free transport for the religious. On top of that, all the evidence tells us that very few parents actually send their children to a “faith” school for reasons of religion, so this kind of provision is entirely unnecessary too.

‘Ultimately, of course, we do not think it is appropriate for any state body to provide funding for a service which incentivises parents to avoid inclusive and integrated schools in favour of discriminatory and divisive schools. This will only serve to entrench religious segregation in our education system, and we would encourage any council providing free transport to do so in a fair and non-discriminatory way.’

For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Faith Schools Campaigner on jay@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read the BHA’s news item ‘BHA calls for an end to “faith” school bias in school transport provision’: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/06/03/bha-calls-end-faith-school-bias-school-transport-provision/

Read the BHA’s response to the Department for Education’s consultation on home-to-school travel and transport: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/New-home-to-school-travel-and-transport-guidance-response-from-the-BHA.pdf

Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

British Humanist Association: Exciting developments for Wales humanists

Wales HumanistsAn item for those who live over the border…

We are looking to grow the BHA’s presence in Wales in order to have a greater impact on decisions made within the Welsh Assembly. My appointment as Development Officer for Wales Humanists will enable greater focus on Wales-specific issues, such as the curriculum changes and pastoral care. We are looking to increase involvement in campaigns, groups, and volunteering across Wales.

Firstly, the outcome of the assembly elections next week will have a significant impact on the understanding and inclusion of Humanism across Wales. I have requested answers to key policy questions from all parties, but approaches by Wales Humanists members and supporters to local candidates would ensure greater consideration of these issues. With this in mind we ask that you consider emailing your local candidates requesting answers to the following questions:

      Would you support non-religious worldviews such as Humanism being taught equally alongside religions in schools?
      Would you support fully inclusive admissions with no religious selection in all state-funded schools, including ‘faith’ schools?
      Would you support making a high-quality, comprehensive personal and social education and sex education curriculum statutory in Welsh schools?
      Would you support an end to the archaic policy of reserving seats for Church of England Bishops in the House of Lords?
      Would you support the legalisation of humanist marriage in Wales, which has been hugely popular in Scotland since its legalisation in 2005?
      Would you oppose any moves in Westminster to weaken our human rights settlement, including pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights – which is essential in protecting fundamental human rights and freedoms?
      Would you support the legalisation of assisted dying for people who are terminally ill or are permanently and incurably suffering, in order to protect their right to autonomy and self-determination?

Secondly, we are looking for more people to become involved in the curriculum review across Wales. I would be grateful if you could contact me by email if you are involved with one of the pioneer schools listed here.

Lastly, we can only increase our profile in Wales through increased membership and public knowledge. Please follow the Wales Humanists group on Facebook, and if you wish to help with school speaking, pastoral care, or setting up a local group, get in touch by email to let me know.

If you would like more information about local groups already in place,  Cardiff Humanists, Welshpool and District Humanists, and West Wales Humanists have groups you can join on Facebook. The newest group in Wales –  Pontypridd Humanists – will be meeting for the first time on 28 June 2016.

Please do get in contact if you have any suggestions or questions, or if you would like to become more involved as a volunteer.

Kathy Riddick
Wales Humanists Development Officer

BHA and patrons launch new campaign to promote understanding of Humanism

Humanist filmmakers, philosophers, writers, academics, broadcasters, comedians, actors and more besides have teamed up with the British Humanist Association (BHA) to launch ‘Simply Humanism’, a two-week social media campaign to promote awareness of Humanism as an ethical life stance shared by millions of people in the UK.

Contributors to the campaign include new BHA President Shappi Khorsandi, broadcaster and historian Dan Snow, director Ken Loach, comedian Sara Pascoe, actor David Baddiel, broadcaster Dr Christian Jessen, journalists Polly Toynbee and Zoe Margolis, and the philosopher A C Grayling, among various others.

The high-profile humanists, all patrons of the BHA, have contributed short quotations which sum up their responses to some of life’s big questions, such as ‘How do we live with purpose?’ or ‘How can I find happiness?’

The BHA hopes to use the graphics it shares on social media under the ‘Simply Humanism’ banner to reach hundreds of thousands of non-religious people in Britain who already look at life from a humanist point of view, but who may not have considered that their outlook constitutes a fully formed worldview – a coherent, fulfilling, and widely shared way of thinking that has a name of its own: Humanism.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented,

‘The humanist perspective on life has always been around – there have always been those of us who view this life as the one and only life we have, who have seen science and reason as the best guides to objective truth, and who have appreciated that life’s colour and value doesn’t come from on high, but simply from our relationships with one another.

‘The BHA was founded in 1896 to advance understanding of this worldview and provide a voice for the non-religious. Even as we celebrate our 120th anniversary and find that our values have become accepted as the mainstream liberal values of the day, we know that we still have work to do to reach people whose family backgrounds or personal situations make it harder for them to express the values they hold confidently and openly.

‘We know from our experience that Humanism strikes a chord with many people when they hear of it: they suddenly realise that they have been humanists all their lives. We hope that many thousands of new people will come to that realisation as a result of this new campaign.’

BHA: Government publishes plans to turn all schools into academies, with far-reaching implications

Please note in your diary: Jay Harman of the British Humanist Association is coming to talk to Shropshire Humanist Group on this subject on Thursday 16 June at 7.30 pm.

The Department for Education (DfE) has published a white paper setting out its plans to turn every state school in England into an academy. Entitled Educational Excellence Everywhere, the white paper states that ‘by the end of 2020, all schools will be academies or in the process of becoming academies’, with the end of 2022 being the deadline by which that process must be complete. Among other things, the move means that local authorities will no longer maintain any schools, as has historically been the case, and no school in England will be obliged to follow the National Curriculum. While there is a lack of detail on many aspects of the proposals, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed concern that in many areas there are currently inadequate safeguards in place to ensure schools remain fully inclusive of those of all religions and none.

Currently around 60% of secondary schools and 15% of primaries are academies. As such, they receive their funding directly from central government, rather than from their local authority, and are also free to manage the day-to-day running of the school in a range of areas, such as drafting their own admission policies, choosing whether or not to follow the National Curriculum, and setting their own religious education (RE) syllabus. As it stands, only schools which are deemed to be failing or ‘coasting’ are to be required to convert to academies – subject to legislation currently passing through Parliament – but the new proposals will mean all schools, regardless of their performance, will be obliged to convert.

BHA Faith Schools and Education Campaigner Jay Harman said, ‘The consequences of these proposals are far-reaching, and at this early stage there is much that has not yet been confirmed. Certainly the Government will have to think very carefully about how they plan to address the implications of full Academisation, not least in terms of the potential increase in religious selection in school admissions, but also in terms of RE, SRE, and the religious control that occurs when schools with no religious character become part of religious multi-academy trusts. It would of course be wrong to jump to any conclusions about whether changes might be introduced in these areas, but we will certainly be paying close attention to any announcements that are made over the next few months, and we look forward to working with the Department for Education to ensure that our concerns are reflected in whatever decisions are taken.’

What the proposals mean in detail

Details on many of the implications of the proposed changes are yet to be announced, and will require close scrutiny in the coming months. For instance, there are very poor safeguards in terms of academies with no religious character becoming religious. Such schools can join religiously-run multi academy trusts, as four currently are in Newcastle. They can decide without consultation to present themselves with a ‘faith ethos’, and start discriminating in terms of governance, recruitment of some senior posts, and certain aspects of the curriculum, as well as taking requirements to do with collective worship much more seriously. And they can even decide after consultation to legally designate as religious, and fully discriminate in admissions, employment and the curriculum, which maintained (i.e. non-academy) schools cannot do. A maintained school cannot gain a religious ethos and must shut down if a religiously designated school is to open in its place.

Similarly, voluntary controlled (VC) ‘faith’ schools currently have their admission arrangements set by local authorities, most of whom do not allow these schools to employ religious selection criteria when allocating places to children. However, on converting, VC ‘faith’ schools gain the right to start religiously selecting, and unless new safeguards are introduced, the legislation could therefore lead to a significant increase in the number of state school places that are subject to religious discrimination.

The proposals also have wide-ranging implications for religious education, which is not part of the National Curriculum but for maintained schools with no religious character is instead determined and overseen locally by committees (SACREs and ASCs) appointed by local authorities. Academies do not have to follow their local syllabus, and a decision will therefore have to be made both on the future of the local committees that set these syllabuses, and on what requirements, if any, the Government will oblige schools to follow when it comes to the teaching of RE. It will also have significant implications for sex and relationships education, as maintained secondary schools have to teach SRE including information on STIs, HIV and AIDS, while academies do not have to teach any SRE at all.

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact the BHA’s Education Campaigner on 020 7324 3078 or jay@humanism.org.uk.

Read the Government’s white paper ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/508447/Educational_Excellence_Everywhere.pdf

Read more about the BHA’s work on religious education: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/

Read more about the BHA’s work on faith schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/

Dr Rupert Read on climate change

From the conference organised by Center for Inquiry UK and the British Humanist Association: Global Warming — Where Do We Go From Here? Philosopher and Green activist Dr Rupert Read speaking on global over-heat, the end of denialism, and the self-destruction of libertarianism in relation to this issue – and a possible way forward, in terms of guardians for future people.

Dr Mayer Hillman on climate change (video)

From the conference organised by Center for Inquiry UK and the British Humanist Association: Global Warming — Where Do We Go From Here? by Dr Mayer Hillman, Senior Fellow Emeritus, Policy Studies Institute, London. What do we do now that society is demonstrating all too clearly its strong preference for downplaying the significance and implications of climate change?

Media coverage of BHA’s letter in response to the Prime Minister

The British Humanist Association organised an open letter which was published in the Telegraph on Easter Monday, challenging recent statements by the Prime Minister which referred to Britain as a ‘Christian country’. The letter’s lead signatory was BHA’s President, the physicist and broadcaster Professor Jim Al-Khalili, and it was co-signed by almost sixty other public figures – including Nobel Laureates, peers, philosophers, campaigners, authors, broadcasters, and academics.

The story was then picked up by hundreds of media outlets both in the UK and around the world. Several of the signatories appeared on TV news programmes, and BHA’s Chief Executive, Andrew Copson, spoke on different local radio stations including Radio Shropshire. A selection of TV and radio clips can be found here.

Humanist Hustings in London: British Humanist Association

British Humanist Association is holding a hustings on May 6th for the upcoming European Elections.

The event is being held in conjunction with the Central London Humanist Group and Conway Hall Ethical Society. The BHA has over 30,000 members and supporters who will be very keen to get their questions to candidates on a range of issues to gender equality, LGBT rights, freedom of thought and expression, sexual and reproductive rights of women, sexual education, freedom of scientific research and access to education for all.

We have candidates from all the parties standing:

  • Mary Honeyball MEP, Labour Party
  • Caroline Attfield, Conservative
  • Matt J. McLaren MEP, Liberal Democrats
  • Jean Lambert MEP, Green Party
  • Gerard Batten MEP, UKIP
  • Dr. Louise Irvine, NHA party

We hope to see you there.

You can find out more here and register to attend:
https://humanism.org.uk/humanisthustings

The European Humanist Federation manifesto can be found here:
http://humanistfederation.eu/ckfinder/userfiles/files/our-work/Memorandum%20EP/EHF%20Manifesto%20for%20European%20elections%20EN.pdf