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Danger of post-war faith schools

Opposition parties prepare their education agendas in advance of the spring conferences. Jon Slater reports

TONY Blair should take a "moral lead" by bringing children of different faiths together rather than taking Britain to war, Liberal Democrats will say this weekend.

They believe that the Government should encourage the creation of "multi-faith" schools rather than an increase in the number of single-faith schools.

Their call is part of a two-pronged attack on the Government by the opposition parties who hold their spring conferences this weekend.

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said: "Given the portents of war and what may turn out to be an East against West, Muslim against Christian aftermath, it would be better to try to bring young people of different faiths together rather than drive a wedge between them.

"The Government needs to give a moral lead in education just as Tony Blair says he needs to do over war with Iraq."

The LibDems, who meet in Torquay, are expected to reject calls by activists for faith schools to be abolished. A compromise policy which would see new single-faith schools' admissions controlled by their local authority has been drawn up by a working party and is expected to be endorsed by the conference. Last year the party was split over the issue.

The Conservatives will use their spring forum in Harrogate, Yorkshire, to attempt to tap into a growing anxiety over the effect of funding changes on some schools.

As The TES reported last month, hundreds of teachers and support staff jobs are threatened because of cuts caused by a new funding system.

Damian Green, shadow education secretary, will tell party delegates that a national funding formula should replace the existing system in which education budgets are set by local councils and distributed to schools.

Traditional Conservative strongholds in southern England have been hit hard by changes to local authority funding. For 13 councils, the increase in central government grant was less than the amount they were expected to pass on to schools.

Mr Green will argue that school finances should be removed from local authority control. "Children should be supported on the basis of need rather than where they live. This year's funding problems show that the current system has broken down. The Government has promised record investment but both councils and schools say they do not have enough money."

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