A senior Reform rabbi has urged a fundamental rethink on faith schools, saying they are “a religious affront” and discriminate against children in ways that are incompatible with religious teachings about equality, openness and fairness.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE of Maidenhead Synagogue (pictured), who chairs the Accord Coalition, is among the religious leaders arguing for the schools not to “abuse” faith, as they do currently.
In a statement, Accord leaders said: “We value faith but do not wish it to be abused, be it for jumping ahead of others to gain entrance to a popular school, or blinkering children’s educational experiences.
It comes as the group – which includes representatives from the Anglican, Catholic, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish faiths – this week launches its manifesto calling for a “rebalancing” of faith in schools
“The manifesto suggests practical steps to change the current system and achieve such aims,” said Romain of the six-point document released ahead of next year’s general election.
It includes proposals for school admissions, teacher employment, the curriculum, school inspections and collective worship. In particular, it makes clear that no school should be allowed to refuse to employ teachers on the grounds of religion, and that the compulsory nature of collective worship should be removed.
There were signs last week that some of the ideas would be adopted by the Labour Party, following a speech from Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Tristram Hunt, which was applauded by Accord religious leader.
In it, Hunt promised to reform the scope of Ofsted school inspections and require state-funded schools to teach Sex and Relationships Education (RE).
“We welcome his decision to re-examine Ofsted inspection,” said Romain. “At faith schools, it does not look at the RE provided and has never considered the impact upon cohesion that school’s pupil admissions and staff employment polices make.”