Schools should be ‘prohibited from using religion’ as criteria for admission, says UN

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has released a report on children's rights in the UK - Rawpixel/iStockphoto

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has released a report on children’s rights in the UK – Rawpixel/iStockphoto

The United Nations has called for a ban on the use of religion to select pupils in England, in what religious leaders and MPs have called a “secularly inspired attack” on faith-based schools.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child published a report on the rights of the child in the UK and concluded that “preventing the use of religion as a selection criterion for admissions to schools in England” was a priority.

It also recommended repealing the legal provisions relating to compulsory attendance at collective worship services and called on the Government to establish legal guidelines ensuring that children have the right to withdraw from religion classes without parental consent.

However, the report has drawn a backlash from MPs, religious leaders and faith-based school providers who say it would be “illiberal” to deny religious families the basic right to a religious education and that it is incorrect to claim that collective attendance at worship is obligatory. .

But Megan Manson, campaigns manager at the National Secular Society, welcomed the call for denominational selection to be abolished in schools, saying it was “shameful” that religious discrimination was allowed in “schools for which we all pay” and urged the government to act on the report’s findings.

Most types of faith-based schools in England have exemptions from the Equality Act 2010, allowing them to give priority to children from families who share their faith if they are oversubscribed.

This may include requirements for parents and children to attend a local place of worship regularly or provide proof of baptism. As a result, some parents cannot send their children to their local public school.

“Attack on religious institutions”

Responding to the UN report, Nick Fletcher, Conservative MP for Don Valley and member of the Education Select Committee, described it as an apparent “attack on faith-based people and institutions”.

“It doesn’t seem to come from a position of tolerance but rather of intolerance,” he said. “I am confident that here in the UK we will continue to respect Christianity and other major religions and recognize the enormous benefit that they and the institutions they lead bring to our society.”

Monsignor Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, added: “This looks like a secularly inspired attack on the faith and its influence in society. Parents are primarily responsible for the education of their children – the state only has a supporting role.

“By the way, wouldn’t this committee spend its time more fruitfully figuring out how Afghan girls can go back to school, what to do with the brainwashed children in extremist madrassas and the many children in our world who still do not have access to education? , instead of targeting the UK where there is universal access to reasonable quality education? »

“Their own religious framework”

Paul Barber, director of the Catholic Education Service, added: “Parents have the right to bring up and educate their children within their own religious framework and it would be illiberal to take away this fundamental right.

“Catholic schools are more ethnically diverse and enroll more students from more disadvantaged backgrounds than the public sector.”

A Church of England spokesperson said all of its schools “are here to serve the whole community – including families of all faiths and none”.

They added that when its schools are oversubscribed, it offers places to those who regularly attend worship “and there is an argument that this may offer an alternative to a simple postcode lottery.”

A Church of England source also added that the institution was puzzled by the corporate worship recommendation, saying parents have been able to withdraw their children from corporate worship since the Education Act 1944 and that no recent legislation has affected this right.

The Department of Education has been contacted for comment.

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