Continuing the recent religious theme, Hal Berstram wades into the stormy waters of "faith schools."
Earlier in the week it emerged that the Government is drawing up plans to encourage new faith schools to take 25% of pupils from other backgrounds.
This is a very wishy-washy and flawed requirement because: (a) the law will only apply to new faith schools, not existing ones; and (b) it will be up to the local authority whether to enforce the rules or not. However, it is better than having no policy on this at all.
The Education Bill is currently passing through the Lords, and Lord (formerly Kenneth) Baker tabled a very sensible amendment which would have required faith schools to take a minimum of 25% of pupils from other faiths, or no faith. Baker withdrew it when Andrew Adonis came up with the watered down 25% rule. This is a typical example of the growing trend for New Labour ministers, particularly Blairites, to behave more like Tories than the real Tories.
Predictably, the Catholic Church has come out doing a creditable impression of John Reid, snarling and gnashing its teeth against any attempt to reduce its ability to use taxpayers' money to engage in religious discrimination. Catholic Education Service director Oona Stannard said on Monday, "[the role of Catholic schools] should not be compromised by a requirement to implement social engineering through externally imposed admissions quotas". But on the other hand, it's fair enough for the schools to implement social engineering through internally imposed admissions quotas, of course. Democratic control of state school admissions is obviously the first step towards the fascist state, and pardon me for speaking out of turn! What a daft atheist I must be.
As you may have guessed I am no fan whatsoever of faith schools. The Human Rights Act makes it impossible to get rid of them (not to mention the fact that they do have substantial support amongst a certain section of the electorate), but if we have to have them, a beefed-up version of the 25% requirement, applied to all of them, would at least ensure some diversity. Even if the 25% rule does not come into force, it ought to be possible for a parent of a kid who fails to get into a faith school because he/she is not of the correct faith to challenge the decision in the European Court of Human Rights. As such a denial of a place at the school on faith grounds amounts to obvious legal discrimination, all we are really waiting for is a test case of this kind, and the current admissions policies of all faith schools who exclude kids of other faiths would surely be declared illegal. It's just down to whether any parent has the finances, and the determination, to do this. Maybe it's time to start a fighting fund for a test case via Pledgebank or a similar vehicle. Has anyone got a school-age kid they'd like to use as a political football? Go on, you know you want to...