BHA and Young Humanists move to protect non-religious parents with guide on religion in schools

From the British Humanist Association, 20 April 2017:

The British Humanist Association (BHA) and Young Humanists have published today a comprehensive guide for non-religious parents and young people, offering support and advice on how to navigate an education system increasingly subject to undue religious influence. The guide comes in the week that parents all over England discovered at which primary school their children have been offered a place for the next school year.

Religion in schools: a guide for non-religious parents and young people in England and Wales is free to download from the BHA’s website and aims to ensure that non-religious people are fully aware of their rights and the law as it relates to ‘faith’ schools and religion in schools more generally. The advice covers a range of areas, including Religious Education, Collective Worship, school admissions, and the teaching of Science, all of which can pose particular problems for non-religious families.

Currently, a third of state schools in England and Wales are ‘faith’ schools, meaning non-religious parents in England and Wales have access to around 7,000 fewer appropriate schools, or nearly two million fewer places, than their religious counterparts. Depending on their type, these schools can religiously discriminate in their admission arrangements, employment policies, and delivery of the curriculum, all of which has a deleterious effect on the rights of non-religious parents. What is more, the law still requires schools without a religious character to hold daily acts of Christian worship, meaning that even parents who have specifically chosen to avoid ‘faith’ schools cannot completely escape religious proselytising.

Commenting on the publication of the new guide, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘Despite the fact that as a society we are now much more diverse, and much more non-religious, the school system has only become more and more permissive to religious influence in recent years. This guide builds on the decades of support that the BHA has provided to parents and young people caught in the crossfire of this long-standing tension between religion and education, and will hopefully equip them to challenge unlawful and discriminatory practice wherever they find it.’

Lauren Nicholas, coordinator of the BHA’s 18-35s section Young Humanists, added, ‘Well over two-thirds of young people in Britain state that they do not belong to any religion, and nearly half of the population as a whole now say they are non-religious. And yet, whether it’s being denied access to your local school, being forced to pray to a god you don’t believe in, or being taught a narrow and doctrinaire religious education curriculum, non-religious people have never encountered a more hostile education system than the one they face now. We are a maligned majority. Ultimately we must repeal the legal freedoms allowing religion to run amok in our schools, but until then this guide will do a great deal to protect the rights of parents.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact BHA Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read the ‘Guide for non-religious parents and young people’: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017-04-19-BHA-guide-for-non-religious-parents.pdf

Read more about the BHA’s work on:

Young Humanists is the 18-35s section of the BHA. Two thirds of Britons between the ages of 18 and 35 are non-religious, according to surveys, and most will share humanist values even if that’s not a term they’ve come across. Young Humanists exists to offer a space for non-religious people aged 18-35 to meet, socialise, debate and support each other.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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BHA: New research shows that 100% religiously selective schools will promote racial segregation

From the British Humanist Association:

New research carried out the BHA’s Faith Schools Campaigner has rubbished the Government’s claims that plans for a new generation of 100% religiously selective English schools will not lead to further ethnic or religious segregation. The Government had claimed that the cap has had no impact in reducing ethnic segregation.

The research, which is based on data provided in the Government’s recent green paper on increasing selection in English schools, has found that Christian schools with a 100% religiously selective intake are less diverse and admit a far higher proportion of children classified as ‘of white origin’ than schools which operate under the 50% cap on religious selection or do not select on religious grounds at all.

The research has also shown that the existing 50% cap on religious discrimination in schools has been more effective in reducing racial segregation in non-Christian ‘faith’ schools than the Government has given it credit for. We continue to call on MPs to resist attempts at permitting further religious segregation. Please remember to write to your MP via our facility to voice your concerns about these worrying new proposals.

 

Simon Nightingale on radio talking about faith schools and fair admissions

Simon Nightingale of Shropshire Humanist Group spoke on Jim Hawkins’ radio show on 16 June on BBC Radio Shropshire.

Listen on http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wtk8f beginning around 8 minutes on the timeline.

This talk preceded the visit of Jay Harman of BHA to talk to us about the problems caused by faith schools.

Meeting Thurs 16 June: Jay Harman of the British Humanist Association on Faith Schools and Fair Admissions

We shall be holding our next meeting on Thursday 16 June at 7.30 pm at the University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ.

Did you know that 1.2 million state school places in England and Wales are subject to discriminatory religious admissions criteria? Did you know that these schools can prioritise not just those of a certain faith but also those of other faiths over those of no faith? And did you know that these admissions policies don’t just segregate schools religiously but also ethnically and socio-economically?

The BHA believes that the freedom to discriminate against pupils on the grounds of their parents’ religious or non-religious beliefs is both wrong in principle and incredibly damaging in practice. In this talk we will discuss the ways in which this kind of discrimination manifests itself in schools today, the impact that it has in an increasingly diverse society and an increasingly irreligious one, and the campaigns the BHA is running in order to bring about a more open, inclusive, and integrated education system.

Jay Harman is the British Humanist Association’s Faith Schools and Education Campaigner. He works on all the BHA’s education issues, from school admissions and discrimination in employment, to religious education, collective worship and evolution vs creationism in schools.

Jay is on the steering groups of the Accord Coalition for inclusive education and the Fair Admissions Campaign, and is a representative of the BHA at the Religious Education Council for England and Wales.

BHA: We’ve launched a new platform for whistleblowers at ‘faith’ schools #faithschoolsanon

From the British Humanist Association:

We’re very excited to announce Faith Schoolers Anonymous, a new project from our ‘Faith’ Schools Campaigner which helps pupils at ‘faith’ schools share their negative experiences with the world.

Too often, when we act on behalf of students at ‘faith’ schools of all kinds – be they private Muslim schools, unregistered Jewish schools, fundamentalist Christian academies, church schools, or whatever else – their real experiences are dismissed out of hand in favour of generic remarks about the supposed virtues of faith-based education.

For defenders of ‘faith’ schools, this can be an effective tactic when faced with truly heartbreaking and appalling consequences of sectarian education. But by allowing the proponents of ‘faith’ schools to shape public debate, we neglect the most important factor of all: the human rights and experiences of schoolchildren. Whether it’s children who have been reprimanded for having an inquiring mind, or condemned for their sexuality, or those denigrated for being a woman, or physically abused for getting distracted during all-day Torah study, their experiences should not be wantonly ignored.

Faith Schoolers Anonymous is here to break the silence. It aims to highlight the problems which ‘faith’ schools, by their very nature, help to foster, at the same time as exposing the spectacular failings of individual schools. You can support the site by reading and sharing stories at faithschoolersanonymous.uk, by submitting your own stories, and by sharing your experiences using the hashtag #faithschoolsanon.

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

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