Faith schools expansion opposed by 43%

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The Independent Online

Only 25 per cent of voters back the Government's plans to increase the number of faith schools, and more than 40 per cent are opposed to the idea, according to the first test of public opinion on the scheme.

Only 25 per cent of voters back the Government's plans to increase the number of faith schools, and more than 40 per cent are opposed to the idea, according to the first test of public opinion on the scheme.

The poll, carried out among 2,000 adults by Mori for The Times Educational Supplement, also reveals that four out of every five voters want all such schools to take in pupils from other faiths or pupils with no religion. The results come at a time of growing unease over the planned extension of faith schools. As a result of new Government legislation, faith groups will be able to bid to run any planned new secondary school and will be invited to help improve failing establishments.

Backbench Labour MPs, leading TUC figures and teachers' leaders have warned that the schools will lead to greater segregation of pupils in racially sensitive areas.

Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, has reacted to the pressure by announcing that ministers will expect all new state church schools to accept pupils from other faiths and those who have no religion.

New guidance is being prepared for school admission authorities, urging them to reject proposals which are not inclusive or, at the very least, to outline plans to form links with schools of different faiths.

The adults polled were asked if they supported the expansion of religious schools, including those run by Muslims, Sikhs and the Greek Orthodox church. Only 25 per cent said they were in favour, while 43 per cent were opposed.

In all, 80 per cent felt church schools should be inclusive. Most respondents were either indifferent to or supported existing church schools. There are 7,000 – mostly Church of England or Roman Catholic – in the state system.

However, it was those who were most supportive of the existing schools – women, the elderly and Conservative voters – who were most against expansion of the system.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is keen to expand church schools because of research showing they have a better academic performance than non-church schools. However, only one in 10 felt this was a reason to support them. Discipline was cited by voters as the main reason for backing them.

Ms Morris argues that while there are so many Church of England and Roman Catholic schools it would be wrong to deny other faiths the right to run state-aided schools.

However, the biggest expansion is likely to come from the Church of England, which wants to open 100 new secondary schools by the end of the decade. It has stressed it is in favour of schools being inclusive. The Association of Muslim Schools said it, too, supported the principle of inclusivity.

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