Religious groups today join with secular campaigners to demand that ministers ban faith schools from excluding pupils because of their beliefs – and make it illegal for them to refuse to employ staff from other religions.
Accord, a campaign group which includes Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim clergy as well as humanists in its membership, claims discriminating against children on religious grounds is “astonishing in today’s society”.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, who chairs the coalition, will say in a speech today the current system leads to children being “ghettoised... so that they grow up segregated”.
“In no other part of public life can you be selected or turned away because of your religion... not in hospitals, libraries, police force, civil service, yet that’s exactly what happens with state-funded schools,” he will add.
The group’s manifesto, which is being sent to all three party leaders, calls for MPs to “work towards ending the anomaly by which state-funded schools are legally able to distinguish between children on religious grounds in their admissions procedures”.
Such discrimination, it argues, is “a legacy of previous centuries that would not be tolerated in employment law, housing rules, health care and almost any other aspect of national life”.
As a first step towards this goal, it argues that faith schools should be brought in line with the system under which religious free schools operate – limiting the number of children that can be selected on the grounds of their faith to 50 per cent of the annual intake.
In its manifesto, the group also calls for the “legal loophole”, which allows schools to refuse to employ teachers on grounds of faith to be lifted.
Other demands include restoring the duty on education standards watchdog Ofsted to report on a school’s attempts to promote community cohesion – axed by the Coalition Government which, it argues, allowed abuses to go unchecked – and scrapping compulsory collective worship in schools. This, it says, forces worship on pupils who either do not hold religious beliefs or who have a different faith.