Church open to non-Christians

6th October 2006 at 01:00
C of E schools will now reserve a quarter of places for pupils outside the religion

Wide-ranging reforms designed to make church schools more open to other faiths were unveiled this week, although the measures are unlikely to be replicated in Muslim schools.

Under the plans, all new Church of England schools will reserve at least a quarter of places for non-Christian children. The Catholic Church has pledged it will also be more open about the proportion of other faiths in its schools.

It is intended to build on the draft code on admissions, which banned schools from interviewing pupils and said they should introduce more transparent rules when selecting children by faith. David Cameron, the Conservative leader, supported the proposal.

However, critics branded the measures, outlined in letters between religious leaders and Alan Johnson, Education Secretary, a "cynical PR stunt". They claimed it will not prevent church schools being monopolised by affluent families, who "play the system" to secure a place.

Muslim headteachers welcomed the joint announcement by the churches, but said they were unlikely to follow suit in state-funded schools. Mohamed Mukadam, chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools and principal of the Leicester Islamic academy, told The TES: "In principle we have no objection, but it is a bit difficult for us to open up our schools for non-Muslims given the huge demands we have for places among Muslims. When we have thousands of schools like the Catholics and the Anglicans, that may become a reality, but at the moment we have to prioritise Muslims."

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said it would not introduce quotas of other faiths in its 36 state schools - Jmost of which have 100 per cent Jewish intakes - Jalthough it was considering a similar scheme to that recommended by the Roman Catholics.

A spokesman said: "Jewish children are very comfortable with their Britishness and it is for that reason that parents often choose Jewish education, so as to allow them to learn about their Jewish culture and heritage as well."

The Rt Rev Kenneth Stevenson, Bishop of Portsmouth and chairman of the Church of England's board of education, said quotas of other faiths will not be binding on its existing 4,646 schools.

It will affect the hundreds of new CofE secondaries likely to open under current government policies, enshrined in the Education Bill, which will hand control of state schools to churches, businesses and charities through a new generation of semi-independent trust schools. It is the second significant announcement by the CofE designed to refine admissions rules in its schools.

Last week, a senior Church official suggested children being admitted on reserved "faith places" should attend Sunday services at least twice in a month. But the Roman Catholic Church has strongly resisted any move to introduce quotas in its own schools. They have already sought to denounce a proposed amendment to the Education Bill by Lord Baker, the former Conservative education secretary, that would require faith schools to admit a third of pupils from other faiths, saying it would undermine their "Catholic ethos".

This week the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham and head of education in the Roman Catholic Church, said future inspections of its 2,041 schools would lay bare the extent to which they embrace other faiths.

They will show how many non-Catholic pupils they have, how other faiths are catered for and whether the school takes part in community work.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: "This cynical joint PR announcement by the churches and the minister is an acknowledgment of the dangers and unpopularity of religious schools, but the remedy it cynically offers is a complete illusion. "We predict that this announcement is in reality an attempt to clear the way for a new wave of religious schools. And the CofE are getting their bid in now."

A broader church, p19

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