London, UK - March 9, 2009 The Liberal Democrats have become the first mainstream political party to acknowledge that many faith schools currently pursue unnecessary practices in admissions and employment which work against inclusion - and pledge to challenge them.
At their Spring Conference this weekend the party voted to put the onus on existing publicly funded schools of a religious character to be inclusive or to have their funding withdrawn. New faith schools would not be allowed to select pupils on grounds of religion or belief.
The party also voted to end "the opt out from employment and equalities legislation for staff in faith schools, except those responsible for religious education".
The Liberal Democrats are calling for all faith schools to be required to teach about other beliefs in a balanced way, something that most do not currently have to do.
The move is being welcomed as a breakthrough by the religious thinktank Ekklesia, which is a founder member of Accord, a coalition working to reform the way faith schools operate and to achieve universal standards of openness and inclusion for all schools in Britain.
Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley said: "This vote is a breakthrough. It is the first time that a mainstream political party has acknowledged that there are significant barriers that faith schools need to remove if they are to be fully inclusive. It is also the first time that a mainstream political party has pledged to tackle the barriers which stand in the way of achieving full inclusion in faith schools. As such the change of policy represents an important shift from denial that there is a problem, to acknowledgement that action needs to be taken.
"It is important that those who take public funding for their faith schools, particularly those in the churches, now respond positively rather than defensively. The new Lib Dem policy is a crucial development in the public debate about how to make faith schools better, and inclusion is an agenda around which everyone should be able to unite."
Notes to Editors
1. Ekklesia is a think-tank, founded in 2002. More information at: http://ekklesia.co.uk/content/about/about.shtml
2. Ekklesia is independent of all church denominations. It has been recognised as one of Britain's leading sources of information on religion and public life.
3. You can follow all Ekklesia's comments on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/EkklesiaComment
4. Ekklesia is a founder member of Accord, a coalition of both religious and non-religious organisations and individuals which aims to reform faith schools for the better. It includes individuals campaigning for an end to discrimination in school staffing and admissions. The coalition also campaigns for a fair and balanced RE curriculum and the removal of the requirement for compulsory collective worship.
5. Members of the Accord coalition also include teachers' union ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) and the British Humanist Association. http://www.accordcoalition.org.uk/
6. Accord ran a fringe event on faith schools at this weekend's Liberal Democrat Spring conference (6-8 March 2009