Leading public figures, religious and party political groups, clergy, and BHA call for review of place of religion in schools

14 August, 2014

In a letter published in today’s Telegraph, 38 public figures, religious and party political groups, and clergy have joined the British Humanist Association (BHA) in calling for a review of the place of religion in state schools. The letter has been signed by both the Liberal Democrat Education Association and Socialist Educational Association; cohesion groups the Institute of Community Cohesion (iCoCo) Foundation and Quilliam; religious groups British Muslims for Secular Democracy, Ekklesia and the Unitarians; and the Accord Coalition. It has also been signed by 28 individuals, including Jim Al-Khalili, AC Grayling and Alice Roberts, two former Department for Education ministers, and nine members of the clergy.

The letter reads:

The findings of the various reports into Birmingham schools are highly disturbing. They found schools providing pupils with an education that narrows horizons, reinforces a cultural and religious identity to the exclusion and disparagement of others, and fails to prepare them for flourishing in a diverse society. There is wide consensus that state funded schools should provide a broad syllabus and promote mutual respect, but had the schools in question been designated as religious many of the practices criticised in these reports would have been permissible.

Meanwhile the Bishop of Oxford and the National Governors’ Association have called for an end to compulsory worship in schools that are not faith based. In practice, Religious Education has become increasingly diverse and inclusive of all faiths and none, but in law has remained essentially unchanged since 1988.

As a society we must treat religion and belief in schools in a way that is fair, inclusive and sustainable. Yet there has been no overarching review of the place of religion in schools since the 1944 Education Act, which marks its 70th anniversary this month. We call upon the Government to commission an inquiry into the place of religion and belief in schools so that a consensus may be forged about this pressing social issue.

Schools’ impact upon the cohesiveness of society can be profound. If fairness, mutual understanding and respect are important, then we must consider schools’ contribution in these areas. Future generations will not thank us if we do not show leadership and instead leave them with an education system that is insular and divisive.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘While we continue to have so many Christian and Jewish schools, offering up an “us vs them” mentality in education, it is not at all surprising that some others will want to have Muslim, Hindu and Sikh schools. Either we provide them, thus causing ever increasing segregation in our education system; or we do not, thus leaving individuals to start to see certain schools as “theirs” even when they are not legally designated as religious, leading to problems like those we have recently experienced.

‘There is another way forward for our society. We can acknowledge that the decades-old principles governing the place of beliefs in state schools are no longer fit for contemporary society, get completely away from the whole notion of different schools belonging to different religious communities, and build a better, more inclusive future for our children.’


For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson at richy@humanists.uk or on 020 3675 0959.

The full list of signatories is as follows:

  • Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, Chair, Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education
  • Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, British Humanist Association
  • Tehmina Kazi, Director, British Muslims for Secular Democracy
  • Jonathan Bartley and Simon Barrow, Co-Directors, Ekklesia
  • Professor Clyde Chitty, Editor of the education journal FORUM
  • Professor Ted Cantle CBE, Chair, Institute of Community Cohesion (iCoCo) Foundation
  • James Kempton, Chair, Liberal Democrat Education Association
  • Maajid Nawaz, Co-Founder & Chairman of Quilliam
  • John Bolt, General Secretary, Socialist Educational Association
  • Derek McAuley, Chief Officer, Unitarians
  • Professor Jim Al-Khalili, theoretical physicist, author and science broadcaster
  • Dr Julian Baggini, philosopher and writer
  • Professor Simon Blackburn, philosopher
  • Dr Susan Blackmore, academic and broadcaster on psychology
  • Baroness Tessa Blackstone, Minister for Education (1997-2001)
  • Professor Sir Colin Blakemore, neurobiologist
  • Peter Cave, philosopher
  • Revd Jeremy Chadd (CofE)
  • Revd Marie Dove (Methodist)
  • Baroness Flather of Windsor and Maidenhead
  • Professor Chris French, psychologist
  • Professor Anthony Grayling, philosopher and author
  • Lord Howarth of Newport, Department for Education Minister (1989-1992 and 1997-1998)
  • Revd Richard Jones (CofE)
  • Sir Harold Kroto, Nobel Prize winning chemist
  • Revd Iain McDonald (URC)
  • Brian Pearce, former Chair of the Buddhist Council of Wales
  • Professor Alice Roberts, anatomist and broadcaster
  • Revd Professor Christopher Rowland (CofE)
  • Dr Adam Rutherford, geneticist, author and broadcaster
  • Dr Simon Singh, mathematical and scientific author and broadcaster
  • Joan Smith, novelist and journalist
  • Professor Lord Smith of Clifton, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ulster (1991-1999)
  • Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner
  • Revd Stephen Terry (CofE)
  • Janet Whitaker, Baroness Whitaker
  • Zoe Williams, journalist
  • Revd Simon Wilson (CofE)

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns 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.