State-funded faith schools criticised in report on religious life in UK

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

State-funded faith schools criticised in report on religious life in UK


A Commission advising the government on religious life in Britain taking aim at state-funded faith schools has based its conclusions on “false assumptions,” said Britain’s biggest synagogue body this week.

The Woolf Institute’s two-year Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, published on Monday, made a series of recommendations on faith schools’ admissions policies, diversity, teaching content and collective assemblies.

Authors said “the legal requirement for schools to hold acts of collective worship should be repealed,” with new “inclusive assemblies” held. They also said that the government should “introduce a statutory entitlement for all schools within the state system for a subject dealing with religious and non-religious worldviews”.

The report added that faith schools “should take measures to reduce selection of pupils and staff on grounds of religion”. Commissioners said: “It is not clear that segregation of young people into faith schools has promoted greater cohesion or that it has not been socially divisive, leading to greater misunderstanding and tension.”

Among those contributing to the study were former chief rabbi Lord Sacks and Reform Rabbi Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue in Berkshire, who chairs the Accord Coalition, which campaigns for inclusive education. 

In October, Romain accused faith schools of “discrimination” by “ensuring that only the best performing, best behaving, most affluent children gain admission,” and was this week singled out for criticism by the United Synagogue.

A spokesman for the organisation said: “The false assumption that provision for vibrant faith communities creates division within our society is something we wholly reject.” 

He added: “Religion is a driving force for good by promoting essential values of tolerance, mutual respect and a strong sense of self… By undermining religious identities the report risks perpetuating an intolerance of faith groups which should have no part in our 21st Century society.”

In contrast, the report was welcomed as a “significant step forward” by Liberal Judaism’s chief executive Rabbi Danny Rich, saying: “If we fail to recognise the diverse nature of our society in our institutions… we risk alienating large sections of our community who will see themselves as ‘the other.’ This in turn leads to them feeling excluded… It is a huge a growing threat to us all.”

The report details the changing religious landscape in Britain, noting that 50 years ago Judaism was the largest non-Christian tradition in the UK, whereas now it is the fourth largest, behind Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism.

The report recommends “much greater religion and belief literacy,” adding: “The potential for misunderstanding, stereotyping and oversimplification based on ignorance is huge.” One respondent said many of today’s younger generation simply would not understand the humour behind Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ because they lack the historical, biblical knowledge on which it is based.

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: