Lords challenge ‘faith’ Academies: Discrimination in employment and flawed conversion process

15 September, 2011

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The House of Lords held the 10th sitting of the Committee Stage of the Education Bill yesterday, and members of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) and Distinguished Supporters of the British Humanist Association (BHA) raised their concerns and tabled amendments to minimise discrimination in state-funded ‘faith’ Academy schools.

Speaking to an amendment tabled by APPHG Secretary Baroness Massey of Darwen, with support of the BHA, Baroness Murphy of Aldgate raised her concern over a new requirement in the Bill for the government to consult with ‘the appropriate religious body’ when converting a state-funded ‘faith’ school into an academy.  The amendment called for this requirement to be removed as APPHG member Baroness Murphy argued the clause serves ‘to hand further control of education to religious authorities’.

BHA Distinguished Supporter Lord Peston argued that ‘this bit of the legislation is just plain wrong’ in view of the fact that many religious organisations do not have clear structures or hierarchies and there is ambiguity of what constitutes an ‘appropriate religious body’. Lord Peston told the Minister the clause ‘needs to be taken away by the Minister and redrafted’ as it could lead to unknown groups influencing the conversion process.

Baroness Massey tabled an amendment to remove provisions in the Bill that would allow further discrimination in employment. At present, state-funded Voluntary Controlled schools with a religious character are entitled to reserve up to a fifth of teaching posts for people of the ‘correct’ religion. The Education Bill as it stands would permit the Secretary of State to remove this limit, and in the view of Baroness Murphy, who supported this amendment, for Voluntary Controlled schools that converted to Academy status the Bill ‘allows new and wider discrimination, so that the Academy school may apply preference to the appointment, promotion or remuneration of all teachers at the school in accordance with the tenets of a religion or religious denomination’.

BHA Vice President Baroness Turner of Camden and Distinguished Supporter Lord Avebury also spoke to amendments on the subject of religious discrimination in employment.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented: ‘Although these amendments could not pass as the Bill is currently in its Grand Committee stage, they provided an important opportunity for the serious deficiencies within the Bill to be bought to the attention of members of the House of Lords and the wider public.

‘Unmodified, these provisions in the Education Bill would permit widespread discrimination in employment, with resultantly serious implications for many teachers who have no religious belief or a different belief to that of the school at which they work. We will continue to brief and work with parliamentarians in an effort to ensure the Bill promotes inclusivity in our educational system, and does not permit further unjust discrimination.’


For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.

Read about our work on ‘faith’ schools.

Read the BHA’s briefing for the Lords Committee Stage of the Education Bill.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity representing and supporting the interests of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.