In Liverpool, an overabundance of faith schools – mainly Catholic – combined with a high non-religious population means that many non-religious parents struggle to send their children to local schools. They are often forced to go to faith schools or attend other schools many miles from home.
As is the case across England, most parents of primary school age children in Liverpool are not religious. Most faith schools can discriminate against parents on the basis of a religion. Some don’t, but continue to operate the schools as totally faith-based, and teach biased or one-sided versions of Religious Education (RE) and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE).
In response to this lack of community school places in Liverpool, and the problem faced by non-religious parents, the UK Government has now approved a new… Muslim school? Wait, what?
A new state-funded Muslim school will be opened in Liverpool as a result of the latest wave of Free School approvals by the UK Government. Humanists UK, which has long campaigned for inclusive schools suitable for all children regardless of their background, said it was dismayed by the news and called for all faith school privileges to be abolished.
The Muslim school approved in the latest wave is Eden Girls Leadership Academy in Liverpool. It has said it will not select on grounds of faith, but all the other privileges available to faith schools may apply. In recent years there have been serious issues with discriminatory faith school admissions in Liverpool, with almost 50% of secondary school places subject to religious selection – the second highest rate in the country. These schools are predominantly Catholic, with some being Church of England. As a result, children from non-Christian backgrounds find themselves denied entry to many of their local schools. But opening another faith school, of a different religious character, in an effort to ‘redress the balance’ will do little to solve community cohesion. Non-Muslim parents will presumably generally avoid sending their children to it, even though it has open admissions policies, so its presence is therefore likely to further drive segregation.
State-funded faith schools are able to teach biased religious education (RE), discriminate on religious grounds when appointing teachers, and also tend to interpret the requirement for a daily act of collective worship in a much more stringent manner than schools without a religious character.
Many – although not the case with Eden Girls Academy – are also able to select pupils according to their family’s religious background. Free Schools with a religious character can select up to 50% of their intake this way. When children are selected based on their faith, this causes segregation of communities along religious, racial, and economic lines.
To help parents navigate the often complex state school system, Humanists UK has produced guides for non-religious parents which contain information and advice regarding faith schools. Parents concerned about being given a faith school against their wishes, or any other aspect of religion in schools, are encouraged to read the guides and to get in touch with any concerns.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann said:
‘State-funded faith schools are a divisive anachronism in our increasingly non-religious society. It’s dismaying that rather than gradually phasing out such discriminatory behaviour, the Government is instead continuing to perpetuate divides by approving new Free Schools with a religious character.
‘The problems with Catholic schools in Liverpool are well known. But the solution should never be to open more faith schools that only serve to divide communities further. Everyone who would rather see schools be inclusive, fair, and open to all children, must join us in calling for the abolition of such discriminatory practices.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07534 248 596.
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 110,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.