Yesterday the UK Government announced the specifics of the new requirement to be placed on all English schools to promote British values. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the proposed changes, but called attention to the fact that they do not address the underlying structural issues surrounding the place of religion in our state schools.
The Government has launched a consultation on proposed new independent school standards. These standards, which apply to Academies, Free Schools and independent schools, will now require schools to ‘actively promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs’, instead of simply requiring schools to encourage pupils to respect these values. A similar requirement was introduced into stand-alone Academies’ and Free Schools’ funding agreements in March and extended to multi-Academy trusts on 6 June. There are also new requirements around safeguarding from extremism, and leadership and management.
The Government has also said that ‘Currently there is no similar standard applied to local authority maintained schools. Ofsted will introduce an equivalent expectation on maintained schools through changes to the Ofsted framework later this year.’
BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We welcome the changes that the Government has proposed today. Democracy, the rule of law, liberty and respect for those of different religions and non-religious beliefs are fundamental values that our public institutions should both abide by and promote.
‘However we do not think these changes address the underlying problem that has given rise to the situation in Birmingham – namely the continued acceptability of organising a school down the line of just one religion – discriminating in favour of that religion to the expense of all other beliefs. Given the large number of Anglican, Catholic and Jewish schools, and the pervasiveness of the mentality that different communities are entitled to their “own” state schools, it is inevitable that some Muslims will get impatient with the fact that there are very few state schools that are legally Muslim and start treating notionally inclusive schools as if they are single-religion.
‘The widespread ability of religious schools to discriminate in their admissions, employment and curriculum policies must be addressed, or else we will continue to see individuals treat certain schools as belonging to “their” religious group and so fostering division. It is vital that all schools are inclusive and diverse.’
For further comment or information contact Richy Thompson at email@example.com or on 020 7324 3072.
Read today’s announcement: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/consultation-on-promoting-british-values-in-school
Read the consultation: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/proposed-new-independent-school-standards
Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.