Baker denounces embrace of faith

17th February 2006 at 00:00
Former Tory education secretary says he rejected calls to set up more religious schools as they are too exclusive

The Labour government has blindly embraced faith schools which are among the most selective in the country, Kenneth Baker, former education secretary, told peers.

Lord Baker said that he had rejected requests from evangelical Christians, Muslims and Jewish organisations to open new state-funded religious schools when he was a minister.

He said the present Government should impose an immediate halt on any new faith schools and new restrictions on those already open, including forcing them to take a third of their pupils from other religions.

Lord Baker was education secretary from 1986 to 1989 and introduced the national curriculum.

He said: "I regret that the Government has adopted its policy because I think that the new faith schools have become very exclusive."

His comments during a House of Lords debate last week came as the Institute for Research in Integrated Strategies published a report which found that faith primary schools in England were less likely to admit children from low-income families than community schools.

The study found that 19 per cent of children living in the postcode area of church schools were eligible for free meals, but only 14 per cent were admitted to the local school. In comparison, local authority schools admitted a slightly higher proportion of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds than lived in their catchment area.

Lord Baker appears to be at odds with the official Conservative party line, which has been broadly supportive of faith education. Nick Gibb, shadow schools minister, said in a faith schools debate this week, in Westminster Hall, that "in the opposition we support them because we believe in a diverse range of education provision".

Jacqui Smith, schools minister, said that faith schools have to comply with national admissions codes, which will be toughened up under the forthcoming education bill, including a ban on interviewing pupils.

Labour and Tory backbenchers have lined up to attack faith schooling.

Graham Allen, Labour MP for Nottingham north, which sends fewer teenagers to university than any other constituency, said faith schools were poaching high-attainers in his area.

"The religious philosophy evident here is less 'love thy neighbour' and more 'the devil take the hindmost'.

Creaming off the talented and masquerading behind the subsequently inflated results. Suffer little children to come unto me, but only if they have a letter from their minister," he said.


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