Allowing schools to select on the basis of faith has been “socially divisive” and led to greater “misunderstanding and tension”, a major report released today has said.
The government must recognise the “negative consequences” that religious selection has on society and called for admissions bodies to reduce such selection, it adds.
The document, produced by the the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, also calls for an end to the legal requirement demanding schools provide daily acts of collective worship of a religious character.
The influential commission, which was led by the former high court judge Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and included the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, also demands that teachers be as well trained in teaching religion as they are English and maths.
But it was its recommendation to curtail religious segregation that is likely to provoke the biggest backlash, particularly among middle class parents who are more likely to send their children to Church of England and Catholic schools.
“In England successive governments have claimed in recent years that faith schools and free schools create and promote social inclusion, which leads to cohesion and integration,” the report states. “However, in our view it is not clear that segregation of young people into faith schools has promoted greater cohesion or that it has not in fact been socially divisive and led rather to greater misunderstanding and tension.”
And the document adds: “Selection by religion segregates children not only according to religious heritage but also, frequently and in effect, by ethnicity and socio-economic background. This undermines equality of opportunity and incentivises parents to be insincere about their religious affiliation and practice.”
The commission called for the bodies responsible for school admissions and the employment of staff to “take measures to reduce such selection”.
Elsewhere, the report suggested that religious education be seen as a humanity and included in the English Baccalaureate suite of subjects.
However, the report was heavily criticised by ministers and the Church of England, which described the report as a “sad waste”.
Rev Nigel Genders, chief education officer at the Church of England, said the ideas in the report were “regularly peddled out but rarely by parents”.
In a blog in response to the document, he said there was still a “massive demand” for faith school places.
And a source close to education secretary Nicky Morgan dismissed the report’s recommendations on faith schools as “ridiculous”.
"Nicky is one of the biggest champions of faith schools and anyone who thinks she is going to pay attention to these ridiculous recommendations is sorely misguided," the source told the Daily Telegraph.