Religious leaders to fight against UK school quotas

Bill would require faith schools to fill 30% of population with children of other faiths.

October 17, 2006 20:03
3 minute read.
Religious leaders to fight against UK school quotas

Jewish education 88. (photo credit: )


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Jewish leaders in the UK have joined their Muslim and Catholic counterparts in objecting to proposed government regulations requiring new faith schools to set aside up to a third of their places for members of other faiths. It is "nonsensical" for the government to force a quota plan upon Jewish schools that would see non-Jews favored over Jews, the chief executive officer of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jon Benjamin said in response to the proposed law. A bill submitted by former education secretary Lord Kenneth Baker, which comes before the House of Lords for debate this month, requires new voluntary-aided (VA) faith schools to fill up to 30 percent of their school population with children from a different faith or a non-faith background. Britain's Education Secretary Alan Johnson is understood to support the proposal in the belief that it would reduce religious and racial tensions. In an August 29 letter to the London Times, Baker stated: "Future generations will regret these new exclusive faith schools, whether Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Jewish or Christian, since to separate children at the ages of five and 11 according to their religion inevitably leads, as Northern Ireland has shown, to separatism." Muslim schools are a source of special concern, he said, noting, "Their entrance criteria are explicit: the purpose is to create a total Muslim personality, and the required familiarity with the Koran means that non-Muslims would not be acceptable." British VA schools are funded by the state and do not charge tuition fees, but are independent of local education authorities and historically were free to select their staff and set their own admissions criteria. The proposed amendment to the Education and Inspections Bill "will have the effect of imposing admissions quotas, thereby forcing faith schools to admit pupils who do not practice the faith of the school," said a joint statement released by the Board of Deputies, the Agency for Jewish Education and the Leo Baeck College. The independence of faith schools "should not be compromised by a requirement to implement social engineering through externally imposed admissions quotas," Oona Stannard of the Catholic Education Service said. "Schools with a religious character are part of the solution for society, not part of the problem," she said. Tahir Alam, the chairman of the education committee of the Muslim Council of Britain, said the proposed law was not the best way forward. "Locking two people in the same room... is not the best way of creating integration," he told the BBC. The chairman of the Church of England's board of education, Bishop Kenneth Stevenson, pledged this month to set aside at least 25% of places in the Church's new schools to non-Christians. Stevenson argued, however, that other faith schools should not be required to do so. While the proposed regulation would only affect new schools, critics charge it would have a disproportionate effect on non-Christian schools. At the start of the current academic year, the Church of England supported 4,646 schools and the Roman Catholic Church 2,041 schools, while there were 39 Jewish, 8 Muslim and 2 Sikh schools. On October 16, Conservative Party Shadow Education Minister David Willetts backed the quota plan, saying, "Parental choice has to take place within a framework, and the framework is that we are a nation which shares some crucial values, and schools and education are absolutely essential in transmitting those values from one generation to the next." Leaders of Britain's Jewish community affirmed the ethos of promoting social harmony and a common set of British values, but objected to a blanket approach to a problem that centered on Muslim schools. "The Jewish experience over many years is that faith schools have enhanced the ability of the community to maintain its cultural heritage while producing active British citizens who play a full part in society," Benjamin said, noting that the "consequences of Lord Baker's amendment would be to exclude Jewish students from Jewish day schools. "This would frustrate parental choice, which was a primary plank of Lord Baker's own education policy when he was education secretary and has been the basis of government education policy for over 60 years," he said.

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