Teachers' union to demand scrapping of faith schools

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The Independent Online

Teachers' leaders are to demand the abolition of the country's 7,000 state-funded faith schools.

The National Union of Teachers will warn at its annual conference next week that the growth in their numbers is leading to "segregated schooling" in many parts of the country. Delegates will be told that this is fostering religious divisions and creating a fertile ground for ethnic conflict and even terrorism.

Steve Sinnott, the union's general secretary, said there was "enormous concern around the country" over the growth of faith schools. The debate was prompted by concerns over Tony Blair's exhortation to faith groups to sponsor his inner-city academies and support the new breed of independently-run "trust" schools he wants to establish.

The NUT, Britain's biggest teachers' union, is worried that extreme religious groups and fundamentalist sects will be able to run schools. They cite the example of the Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead sponsored by Sir Peter Vardy, where creationism is said to be taught in science lessons.

They are also worried that the stringent admissions policies of some faith schools - which give weight to the children of parents who practise their religion - will increase segregation.

The debate, on Easter Sunday, will be the first attempt by the union to dismantle the compromise reached in 1944, when universal state education was established, which allows faith schools to run side-by-side with secular state schools. There are around 7,000 state-aided faith schools in England and Wales - 600 secondary and 6,400 primary. Of these, 6,955 are Church of England, Roman Catholic or Methodist. The rest consist of 36 Jewish schools, six Muslim, two Sikh, one Greek Orthodox and one Seventh Day Adventist.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "We have a long tradition of faith schools in this country. They are popular with parents and make an important contribution to community cohesion.

"Leaders from the Church of England, Hindu, Sikh, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist faiths only recently underlined their commitment to ensure that faith schools teach pupils about other religions as well as their own."