Thursday, 8 September 2011

Guest Post: BHA: Faith Schools- Just Say No (Polly Toynbee)

On Monday the first state-funded religious ‘Free Schools’ open.  I am writing to you to ask for your help in fighting the growth in these and other state-funded ‘faith’ schools. Last year, with public support, we managed to raise a year’s funding for our ‘faith’ schools campaigner. We need to do the same this year and I hope you can help us do it.

Please click here to give a donation in support of this vital work.

For the past four years the BHA has employed the UK’s only dedicated campaigner against ‘faith’ schools. This campaigner, currently Richy Thompson, works hard to oppose their discriminatory, divisive nature in the media, to government and in support of local campaigns across the country.

There are still over 7,000 ‘faith’ schools in England and Wales, and this number is rising at an alarming rate. The number of new ‘faith’ schools being established has accelerated over the past year, with the number of religious secondary schools in England rising from 18 to 19 percent across 2010 – nearly a fifth of all secondary schools. The figure for primary schools is much higher.

Worse, with many existing schools converting to Academies and the first new Free Schools opening next week, we actually face a growing threat. Increased ‘freedom’ in practice means increased ability to discriminate. ‘Faith’ schools are gaining more control over their curricula, which they now entirely set themselves. Those that cannot currently discriminate in their admissions criteria are often gaining the ability to do so. And teachers at Academies and Free Schools are not required to hold qualified teacher status.

For the last twelve months our staff have been working tirelessly on our education campaigns. The Academies Act 2010 completed its passage through Parliament, and the Education Bill has begun its journey. We have worked with the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group to bring amendments to both Bills, and ensure a proper debate is held over the continuing role of religion in our education system. We have briefed parliamentarians on religious education, collective worship and sex and relationships education. We have responded to consultations on the curriculum, on the English Baccalaureate and on admissions, ensuring the humanist voice is prominent in all these.

Increasingly we are focussing our efforts on local campaigns, as decision-making powers shift towards local areas and we now have a regularly large number of campaigns on the go at any one time. In the past our campaigner has been working on at most one or two local campaigns at any one time. But Richy is currently working with eight groups against individual proposals for new ‘faith’ schools, and against proposals for shutting down community schools to make way for them.

The BHA has launched a launched a major new fundraising drive to support its ongoing campaign in opposition to state-funded ‘faith’ schools, and fundraise for this post for the next year. I would be delighted if you would join me in making a donation, which you can do at If you’re a UK taxpayer, please do also indicate that the BHA can reclaim Gift Aid on your donation so that we can reclaim 25p tax from HMRC for every £1 you donate.

Best wishes and thanks for all your continued support,
Polly Toynbee
President, British Humanist Association