Religious leaders, parliamentarians, and education experts call for Government u-turn on ‘faith’ school admission proposals

7 November, 2016

United: religious leaders, humanists, academics, and politicians pen letter to Government
United: religious leaders, humanists, academics, and politicians pen letter to Government opposing 100% selection

A group of prominent religious leaders, parliamentarians, and education experts have signed an open letter in the Times newspaper calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to drop proposals that would allow all new and existing ‘faith’ schools in England to religiously select 100% of their places.

Currently, and for the last nine years, all new academies and free schools have only been able to religiously select half of their places, a requirement that has been hugely effective in boosting integration in the education system and ensuring that local places are open to local children, irrespective of their religion or belief. The Government is now proposing to remove this so-called 50% cap on religious selection.

The letter, organised by the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, of which the British Humanist Association (BHA) is a co-founder, has been signed by more than 70 prominent public figures. They include religious and non-religious leaders representing Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and humanist organisations, the general secretaries of three education trade unions, and parliamentarians from across the political spectrum.

The letter reads:

Dear Prime Minister,

We represent a wide range of political, religious, academic, educational and other areas of British life, but are all of one mind in urging you not to proceed with the proposal to abolish the limit which prevents faith-based free schools selecting more than 50% of pupils on religious grounds.

The educational system should not just be about learning facts but also teaching values and citizenship, which includes forging understanding amongst young people from different backgrounds. Though the 50% cap still permits discrimination, it sends a clear signal that new faith schools can have both religious roots and a sense of openness to others. This will benefit both the children who attend them and, ultimately, the society which they will one day help shape. In contrast, removing the 50% cap will send out a green light to those who wish to segregate children on faith grounds through the state funded education system.

In a country that is becoming increasingly diverse, this is exactly the wrong time to give faith schools even more power to divide and segregate children. Religion and belief should not and need not be at odds with integration, which is why the cap to religious selection should be maintained.

See full list of signatories

Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE
Graham Allen MP
Jonathan Bartley
Melissa Benn
Revd Richard Bentley
Baroness Tessa Blackstone
Crispin Blunt MP
Dr Mary Bousted
Baroness Lorely Burt
Professor Ted Cantle CBE
Revd Jeremy Chadd
Kevin Courtney
Dr Amanullah De Sondy
Lord Meghnad Desai
Revd Maria Dove
Graeme Duncan
Baroness Shreela Flather
Professor Becky Francis
Lord Glentoran CBE DL
Roger Godsiff MP
Rabbi Dr David Goldberg OBE
Professor Anthony Grayling
Lord Alan Haworth
Baroness Angela Harris
Baroness Dianne Hayter
Savitri Hensman
Dr Theo Hobson
Russell Hobby
The Rt Revd Professor Richard Holloway
Baroness Beverley Hughes
Lord Robert Hughes
Sunny Hundal
Virginia Isaac
Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi
Revd Richard C B Jones
Professor Steve Jones
Lord Frank Judd
Tom Kibasi
Lord Neil Kinnock
Baroness Glenys Kinnock
Rev Richard Kirker
Lord Jim Knight
Reverend Una Kroll
Jay Lakhani
Naomi Long MLA
Dr Caroline Lucas MP
Lord Brian MacKenzie
Lord John Maxton
Derek McAuley
Rev Iain McDonald
Kerry McCarthy MP
Baroness Molly Meacher
Loic Menzies
Fiona Millar
Fiyaz Mughal OBE
Baroness Elaine Murphy
Lord Martin O’Neill
Dr Farid Panjwani
Brian Pearce
Haras Rafiq
Revd Professor Michael Reiss
Rev Professor Chris Rowland
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE
Barry Sheerman MP
Jeff Smith MP
Lord Clive Soley
Professor Lord Trevor Smith
Lord Simon Tanlaw
Baroness Ann Taylor
Revd Stephen Terry
Polly Toynbee
Professor Keith Ward FBA
Reverend Simon Wilson
Rev Cllr Dick Wolff
Dr Sarah Wollaston MP
Baroness Janet Whitaker

The letter follows a poll published last week revealing that nearly three quarters of the public are opposed state schools being able to select pupils on the basis of religion. The survey, jointly commissioned by the BHA and Accord Coalition, found that 72% of the public are opposed to any religious selection, compared to just 15% supporting it. Significantly, a majority of every faith group is opposed to religious selection: nearly two thirds (63%) of Catholic respondents are opposed, as are 82% of Muslims.  

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘The Government is effectively proposing to allow more of our schools to become closed-off, single-faith enclaves, and the level of opposition to this frankly unthinkable move should therefore not be surprising to anyone. Nor should it be surprising that this opposition is coming from people representing the full range of religious and non-religious beliefs and political persuasions in this country.

The evidence is very clear that the 50% cap has significantly boosted integration in our schools and drastically improved the access of local families to those schools. To do away with it now would be to undo all the progress we have made in recent years towards creating an education system that is fair, inclusive, and fully reflective of the rich diversity of this country. These proposals are irresponsible and they are dangerous, and we will continue to call on the Government to reconsider them.’    

The BHA is inviting its supporters and members of the public to endorse today’s open letter through a facility on its website.


For further comment or information please contact BHA Faith Schools and Education Campaigner Jay Harman on or 0207 324 3078.

Full list of signatories:

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain; Professor Jim Al-Khalili; Graham Allen MP; Jonathan Bartley; Melissa Benn; the Rev Richard Bentley; Baroness Blackstone; Crispin Blunt MP; Dr Mary Bousted; Baroness Burt of Solihull; Professor Ted Cantle; the Rev Jeremy Chadd; Kevin Courtney; Dr Amanullah De Sondy; Lord Desai; the Rev Maria Dove; Graeme Duncan; Baroness Flather; Professor Becky Francis; Lord Glentoran; Roger Godsiff MP; Rabbi Dr David Goldberg; Professor Anthony Grayling; Baroness Harris of Richmond; Lord Haworth; Baroness Hayter; Savitri Hensman; Dr Theo Hobson; Russell Hobby; the Right Rev Richard Holloway; Baroness Hughes; Lord Hughes; Sunny Hundal; Virginia Isaac; Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi; the Rev Richard C B Jones; Professor Steve Jones; Lord Judd; Tom Kibasi; Lord Kinnock; Baroness Kinnock; the Rev Richard Kirker; Lord Knight; the Rev Una Kroll; Jay Lakhani; Naomi Long; Dr Caroline Lucas MP; Lord Brian MacKenzie; Lord Maxton; Derek McAuley; Kerry McCarthy MP; the Rev Iain McDonald; Baroness Meacher; Loic Menzies; Fiona Millar; Fiyaz Mughal; Baroness Murphy; Lord O’Neill; Dr Farid Panjwani; Brian Pearce; Haras Rafiq; the Rev Professor Michael Reiss; the Rev Professor Chris Rowland; Barry Sheerman MP; Jeff Smith MP; Lord Soley; the Rev Stephen Terry; Professor Lord Smith; Lord Tanlaw; Baroness Taylor; Polly Toynbee; Professor Keith Ward; the Rev Simon Wilson; Baroness Whitaker; the Rev Dick Wolff; Dr Sarah Wollaston MP

Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘London Assembly vote pits them against Number 10 plans for more religious selection in state schools’:

Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘Strong majority of public opposed to Government plans on religious discrimination in schools admissions – new poll’:

See the BHA’s news item ‘New evidence shows Government proposals to allow 100% religious selection in schools will lead to increased segregation’:

Read the BHA’s news item ‘Peers accuse Government of “playing with fire” over plans for unlimited religious selection in schools’:

BHA’s news item ‘Exposed: Catholic hypocrisy in calls for end to restrictions on religious selection in schools’:

Read the Government’s green paper, where it sets out its proposals to scrap the 50% faith discrimination cap:

About the British Humanist Association

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.