Over half of voters believe faith schools should not be paid for by the taxpayer or abolished altogether, a recent poll has found.
Under the current systems, state funded faith schools are free to teach children about their own religions only and can prioritise applications based on a child’s religious background.
Of those polled by Opinium for The Observer, 58% said faith schools should lose state funding or be closed down, while just one in three expressed no concern over the funding of faith schools at all. 56% said the institutions should be forced to teach about religions other than their own.
The debate over the role of faith schools in Britain has been renewed since the so called “Trojan Horse” allegations that Islamic fundamentalists have been plotting to take control of schools in Birmingham. None involved were however official faith schools.
The Education Secretary said “decisive action” would be taken after schools inspector Ofsted issued a damning verdict on the running of a number of the schools. Inspections concluded that a “culture of fear and intimidation” has developed in some and, in several, governors exerted “inappropriate influence” over how they are being run.
Three quarters of those questioned by Opinium agreed there is a serious risk pupils could be encouraged to adopt extremist views in predominantly Muslim schools. There are currently just 18 official state funded Muslim faith schools in the country out of a total 6,844. 4,601 are Church of England and 1,986 Roman Catholic.
Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt has called for cross-party talks on the issue of faith schools and the teaching of religion in schools.
“Events in Birmingham have raised questions about faith, multiculturalism and state education and in the aftermath this is the moment to think about discussing, on a cross-party basis, how we manage potential tensions, particularly in urban districts,” he told The Observer.
He called for strong powers for Ofsted to inspect teaching of religion and backed the idea that schools should teach about other faiths.
British Humanist Association chief executive Andrew Copson said: “As things stand, 100% state funded ”faith“schools can and typically do teach one religion as true and all others are false, while non-religious world views are often ignored entirely. They turn children away because their parents are of the 'wrong' religion or no religion, and they refuse to hire the best qualified staff for the same reason.
“The proportion of secondary-age pupils in religious state schools has gone up by 20% over the course of this century with no meaningful political debate of whether this is desirable, never mind about popular. That Tristram Hunt is now proposing to look again at some aspects of this system is to be welcomed.”
Additional reporting by PA