Nearly Two Thirds Oppose Faith Schools in UK

LONDON – A new ICM/Guardian poll has found that nearly two thirds of the public oppose faith schools because of fears for their impact on social cohesion.

Prime Minister Tony Blair came out in opposition of abolishing faith schools as a means to create harmony between different communities, saying that it was “perfectly consistent” in a multi-racial, multi-religious society for people to want their children to be educated according to their own faith.

But 64% of respondents to the new survey agreed that “the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind.”

Barry Sheerman, who chairs the Commons education select committee, asked the Guardian, “Do we want a ghettoized education system?”

He added: “Schools play a crucial role in integrating different communities and the growth of faith schools poses a real threat to this. These things need to be thought through very carefully before they are implemented.”

Liberal Democrat Evan Harris said that MPs should challenge the “headlong rush towards more state-sponsored religious favoritism and religious discrimination.

“Parliament has never had a chance to debate the cozy establishment consensus that the number of state-funded faith-based schools must expand,” he said.

Mr Harris said it was “no surprise” that people were concerned about faith schools.

“The only surprise is that the government is so determined to allow more discrimination in school admissions, undermine social cohesion and see more religious proselytization – all funded by the state.”

The survey also found, however, that a quarter of the 1,006 respondents found faith schools to be an important part of the education system.

The Church of England continues to be a strong advocate of church schools, arguing that they are plural in their approach, as well as also being attractive to non-Christians because of their positive ethos and school record.

The Association of Muslim Schools said faith schools “turned out rounded citizens, more tolerant of others and less likely to succumb to criminality or extremism.”

Proposals are due to be published later in the year by ministers making it easier for independent schools, including Islamic, Christian and Jewish institutions to opt into the state sector with access to public funding.