Conscience call

5th September 2008 at 01:00

If Accord, the new coalition of secular and religious figures, wishes to contain the enthusiasm of Lord Adonis, the schools minister, and others for increasing religious discrimination in schools, they might usefully revisit the 1944 Education Act.

According to that act, although denominational schools are free to appoint religious instruction teachers, the local authority can give directions as to the educational qualifications of teachers employed to give secular instruction. Such teachers could not be dismissed by the governors without the agreement of the authority. As for decisions about admitting pupils, "a pupil must not be required, as a condition of attending the school, either to attend or abstain from attending a Sunday School or a place of religious worship" (Section 25 (3) - the "conscience clause").

The aim should be to insert a similar clause into the legislation relating to the appointment of teachers or other staff, other than those employed specifically to give religious instruction. We have come a long way since 1944 - mostly backwards.

Sir Peter Newsam, Former chief schools adjudicator, Pickering, North Yorkshire.

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