Over 180 high-profile campaigners join forces against new 100% religiously selective schools

14 April, 2019

  • Alice Roberts, Stephen Fry, Lord Kenneth Baker, Becky Francis, Revd Richard Harries, and Alf Dubs are among 183 campaigners opposing proposals to open 100% religiously selective schools
  • Letter urges Damian Hinds to stop opening segregated religious schools and instead let children from all religions and beliefs mix together in inclusive schools
  • Letter organised by Humanists UK and the Accord Coalition comes as Catholic, Church of England, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu groups apply to open new schools.

A group of high-profile campaigners including politicians, academics, religious leaders, and humanists have urged the Government to ban new state schools which can select 100% of pupils based on their religious beliefs, warning that segregating more pupils by faith would be a disaster for social cohesion.

Humanists UK and the Accord Coalition, which campaign for an inclusive education system with no religious discrimination, have organised the letter to the Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds in response to the UK Government’s recent launch of a funding scheme for new voluntary aided schools in England. The letter appeared in today’s Sunday Times.

The letter, displayed below, is backed by supporters including Humanists UK President and faith schools campaigner Alice Roberts, Humanists UK patron Stephen Fry, former Secretary of State for Education Lord Kenneth Baker, leading social anthropologist Kate Fox, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, and Neil Kinnock along with directors of groups including the Runnymede Trust, UCL Institute of Education, and British Muslims for Secular Democracy.

It highlights the Government’s ‘extremely concerning’ move to give funding for the first time in over a decade for new schools which can legally select 100% of their pupils on religious grounds.

Catholic, Church of England, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu groups have already jumped on the new funding offer, with the Department for Education (DfE) last week publishing details of 14 proposed voluntary aided faith schools which have applied under the scheme. The DfE is currently considering the proposals.

The letter states: ‘Evidence shows that such schools separate pupils not just along religious but also ethnic and socio-economic lines. This fundamentally threatens social cohesion. Monocultural schools simply cannot reproduce the benefits that come from learning alongside others holding differing beliefs, all day, every day.’

Humanists UK and the Accord Coalition estimate that 16% of mainstream state school places – or 1.2 million in total – are subject to religious selection. This is more than the number of places at private, single-sex, and grammar schools, or places selected by ability or aptitude, combined.

In this context, both groups believe that opening more fully religiously selective schools would be hugely detrimental to various pupils who don’t share their local school’s religion and would struggle to get a place at the school.

Humanists UK president Alice Roberts said: ‘If we want cohesion and harmony in our society, we need to bring our children together – not separate and segregate them according to their parents’ religious beliefs or worldviews. And as most people with religious beliefs aren’t pushing for these selective schools – I don’t understand where the drive is coming from. It is such a backwards step.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: ‘Faith schools separate pupils by religion, ethnicity and family income, which increases social disadvantage and divides communities. The children of non-religious parents are often specifically relegated in admissions policies and are more likely than others to miss out on a school spot than those of religions. But, fundamentally, faith schools force children from different backgrounds to be educated separately which is a disaster when we are trying to create more inclusive, tolerant communities.’

Revd Stephen Terry, Chair of the Accord Coalition for inclusive education said: ‘The only positive way forward is to move to an inclusive school system, where children and young people of all different backgrounds and beliefs can learn with and from each other. The Government must abandon its plans for these religiously selective schools and commit to schools that are open to all children irrespective of family background.’

Humanists UK has been running a campaign urging people to write to their MP to oppose 100% religiously selective voluntary aided schools.

The full letter and signatories is below.

‘We represent a diverse range of educational, religious, humanist, political, and academic stakeholders from across British society with differing views on the question of faith schools. But we are all in agreement that, whatever their character, state schools should be inclusive, diverse, and integrated not exclusive, monocultural, or segregated.

We are therefore extremely concerned that, despite acknowledging the importance of integration and inclusivity by abandoning a proposal to drop the 50% cap on religious admissions in free schools, the Government has instead decided to provide funding for new voluntary aided schools which will legally be able to select 100% of their pupils on religious grounds. The first applications are being considered at this very moment.

Evidence shows that such schools separate pupils not just along religious but also ethnic and socio-economic lines. This fundamentally threatens social cohesion. Monocultural schools simply cannot reproduce the benefits that come from learning alongside others holding differing beliefs, all day, every day.

Further, to be approved, the new schools are supposed to demonstrate they will ‘attract applications from all parts of the wider community’. But the requirement that such schools must be attractive to families outside of particular religious communities whilst simultaneously placing those families at the back of the queue for places is patently unfair.

We urge the Government to abandon its plans to create these schools and instead ask that all new schools are inclusive, open, and welcoming to all children irrespective of family background.’

The letter comes as a newly released report by the social mobility charity, the Sutton Trust, found that faith schools are the ‘most socially selective’ schools in England and Wales, and that they increase disadvantage for poorer pupils by under-representing the rates of disadvantage in their catchment areas.


  1. Professor Alice Roberts, President, Humanists UK
  2. Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK
  3. Revd Stephen Terry, Chair of the Accord Coalition for inclusive education
  4. The Rt Hon. the Lord Baker of Dorking CH, former Secretary of State for Education
  5. Professor Becky Francis, Director, UCL Institute of Education
  6. The Rt Revd. the Lord Harries of Pentregarth DD, former Bishop of Oxford
  7. Lord Alf Dubs
  8. Stephen Fry
  9. Professor Jim Al-Khalili
  10. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, journalist, author and Chair of the British Muslims for Secular Democracy
  11. Adèle Anderson
  12. Professor Peter Atkins
  13. David Baddiel
  14. Julian Baggini
  15. Baroness Joan Bakewell, co-chair, All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group
  16. Christina Baron, member of General Synod (Bath & Wells)
  17. Simon Barrow, Director, Ekklesia
  18. Dr Richard Bartle
  19. Sian Berry AM, Green London Assembly Member and Co-Leader
  20. Professor Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC (Hon)
  21. Piers Bizony
  22. Professor Simon Blackburn
  23. Dr Susan Blackmore
  24. Baroness Tessa Blackstone
  25. Professor Sir Colin Blakemore FRS
  26. Sir David Blatherwick
  27. Sir Tom Blundell
  28. Baroness Burt
  29. Donald Cameron
  30. Professor Colin Campbell
  31. Professor Ted Cantle CBE, Chair of the iCoCo Foundation and national community cohesion and inter-cultural relations expert
  32. Peter Cave
  33. The Revd Jeremy Chadd , Vicar of St Chad, Sunderland
  34. Professor Matthew Clayton
  35. Sue Cook
  36. Tom Copley AM, Labour London Assembly Member
  37. Revd Roger Cornish (United Reformed Church)
  38. Dr Helena Cronin
  39. Helen Czerski
  40. Sir Richard Dalton
  41. Professor Richard Dawkins
  42. The Lord Desai
  43. Martin Doré, Chair, Socialist Educational Association
  44. Revd Marie Dove (Methodist)
  45. Warren Ellis
  46. Jonathan Emmett, children’s author
  47. Dylan Evans
  48. Stephen Evans, Chief Executive Officer of the National Secular Society
  49. Dr Maria Exall, Chair of the Trades Union Congress LGBT+ Committee
  50. Baroness Shreela Flather DL
  51. Kate Fox, social anthropologist and author
  52. Revd Canon Jane Fraser, Manager of the education charity Bodysense
  53. Professor Chris French
  54. Rt Hon Lord Garel-Jones
  55. The Rt Revd David Gillett, former Bishop of Bolton
  56. Professor Jonathan Glover
  57. Rabbi Dr David J Goldberg
  58. Sir Francis Graham-Smith
  59. Professor A C Grayling, philosopher and author
  60. Professor David Hand
  61. Baroness Angela Harris of Richmond DL
  62. Dr Evan Harris, evidenced-based policy and human rights campaigner
  63. Professor John Harris
  64. The Lord Harrison
  65. Tony Hawks
  66. Dr Alan Haworth
  67. Natalie Haynes
  68. Savi Hensman, writer on Christian social ethics and theology
  69. Symon Hill, Christian author
  70. Ruth Hilton, Chair, JAT
  71. Dr Theo Hobson, theologian
  72. Jon Holmes
  73. Martin Horwood, Lib Dem MP for Cheltenham 2005 -15
  74. Rt Hon Dr Kim Howells, former Education Minister (1997 to 1998 and 2004 to 2005)
  75. Lord Hughes of Woodside
  76. Sunny Hundal, journalist and editor
  77. Dr Julian Huppert
  78. Virginia Ironside
  79. Dr Michael Irwin
  80. Professor M. Saiful Islam
  81. Rabbi Dr. Margaret Jacobi
  82. Dr Christian Jessen
  83. Nigel Jones, Chair, Lib Dem Education Association, and Methodist Local Preacher
  84. Revd Richard Jones, Associate Minister, Hereford Diocese
  85. Professor Steve Jones
  86. The Lord Judd
  87. Dr Omar Khan, Director, Runnymede Trust
  88. Rt Hon Lord Kinnock of Bedwellty
  89. Stephen Kinnock, MP
  90. Revd Richard Kirker, former Chief Executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement
  91. The Rt Hon. the Lord Knight of Weymouth, Minister of State for Schools 2006-2009
  92. Hari Kunzru, novelist and journalist
  93. Laura Lacole
  94. Warren Lakin
  95. Paul Lamb
  96. Revd Peter Law-Jones (CofE)
  97. Revd Cannon Peter Leonard, Chair of OneBodyOneFaith, and Acting Dean and Canon Chancellor of Portsmouth Cathedral
  98. The Baroness Lister of Burtersett CBE
  99. Callum James Littlemore, Co-Chair of the Young Liberals
  100. Ken Loach
  101. Naomi Long MLA, Leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
  102. Dr Caroline Lucas MP, former Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales
  103. Sir Alasdair Macdonald, Chairperson, New Visions for Education Group
  104. Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate OBE
  105. Melian Mansfield, Chair, Campaign for State Education
  106. Eddie Marsan
  107. Professor Andrew Mason
  108. Baroness Massey of Darwin
  109. Lord Maxton
  110. Derek McAuley, Chief Officer, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
  111. Kerry McCarthy MP
  112. Revd Iain McDonald (United Reformed Church)
  113. Ian McEwan, author
  114. Tim McGarry
  115. Professor Patrick McKeown OBE
  116. The Reverend Andrew McMullon (CofE)
  117. Baroness Meacher
  118. Jonathan Meades
  119. Loic Menzies, Chief Executive of the Education and Youth ‘think and action-tank’ LKMco
  120. Fiona Millar, journalist and education campaigner
  121. Rabia Mirza, Director, British Muslims for Secular Democracy
  122. Manzoor Moghal, Chairman, Muslim Forum
  123. Fiyaz Mughal, Director of Faith Matters
  124. Diane Munday
  125. Professor the Baroness Murphy
  126. Alan Murray, All Faiths and None
  127. Issi Nash, Group Secretary to Rescue Our Schools
  128. Jane Nicklinson
  129. Professor Richard Norman
  130. Eunan O’Kane
  131. Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan
  132. Dr Farid Panjwani, Associate Professor in Religious Education and Director of the Centre for Research and Evaluation in Muslim Education (CREME)
  133. Carl Parsons, Professor of Social Inclusion Studies, University of Greenwich
  134. Sara Pascoe
  135. Christina Patterson
  136. Brian Pearce, former Chair of the Buddhist Council of Wales and Buddhist Chaplain to prisons in Wales
  137. Martin Pendergast, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality
  138. Sir Roger Penrose
  139. Professor Kate Pickett
  140. Chris Price
  141. Haras Rafiq, CEO, Quilliam International
  142. Viscount Ridley
  143. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, President of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education
  144. The Rt Hon. the Lord Rooker
  145. Professor Steven Rose
  146. Nick Ross
  147. Revd Prof. Christopher Rowland, Dean Ireland’s Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture Emeritus, University of Oxford
  148. Martin Rowson
  149. Michael Rubenstein
  150. The Rt Hon Sir Stephen Sedley
  151. Ariane Sherine
  152. Dr Simon Singh (MBE)
  153. Paul Sinha
  154. Professor Stephen Smartt
  155. Joan Smith
  156. Prof. Lord Smith of Clifton, academic and former Vice Chancellor
  157. The Lord Soley
  158. Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou
  159. Revd Tim Stead (CofE)
  160. John Swallow, former President of the National Association of Head Teachers
  161. Professor Adam Swift
  162. Joy Swift MBE
  163. Professor Raymond Tallis
  164. Peter Tatchell
  165. The Lord Dick Taverne QC
  166. Baroness Taylor of Bolton
  167. Jamie Theakston
  168. Revd Robert Thompson (CofE)
  169. Baroness Glenys Thornton
  170. Sandi Toksvig
  171. Carole Tongue
  172. Polly Toynbee
  173. Anna Turley MP
  174. Lord Andrew Turnbull KCB CVO
  175. Stephen Volk
  176. Revd Prof. Keith Ward, Christ Church, Oxford
  177. Mike Watson, Labour Education Spokesperson, House of Lords
  178. Baroness Whitaker
  179. Revd Simon Wilson, Heacham, Norfolk (CofE)
  180. Revd Claire Wilson (CofE)
  181. Professor Richard Wiseman
  182. Lord Wood of Anfield
  183. Professor Michael Hand


For more information, contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3078.

For more information about our faith schools campaign work, visit https://humanists.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.