Liberal Democrats

F16: The Role of Faith in State-Funded Schools

Federal Policy Committee
Mover: Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Chair, Education Policy Working Group)
Summation: Jeremy Hargreaves (Vice-Chair, Federal Policy Committee)

Conference believes that:

  1. Religious communities make a valuable contribution to the cultural life of the UK, and religious organisations have played a major historic role in broadening access to education.
  2. Children should not be taught to hold or to reject religious or non-religious beliefs against the wishes of their parents, and religious instruction should not be funded by the state.
  3. Children of different racial, religious, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds should be able to benefit from mixing together from an early age.
  4. There is a wide range of ethos underpinning schools across the country as a result of different organisations being allowed to sponsor state schools.
  5. Every child should receive a balanced and non-directive education about religion, belief and ethics.

Conference further believes that:

  1. Where different bodies are allowed to sponsor state schools, religious organisations should not be discriminated against in so doing.
  2. There continues to be a place for state schools with a religious character.
  3. There is a distinction between educating children about religions and their practices (‘religious education’) and teaching children to follow a particular religion (‘religious instruction’).
  4. Religious education in all state-funded schools should cover religious and non-religious world views, should be about people’s beliefs and practice and their ethical and moral standpoints, and should be taught in a non-directive way.
  5. Where religious instruction, worship or other religious practice takes place in state-funded schools it should not be compulsory, and meaningful alternative activities should be offered.
  6. Teaching and other staff of state-funded schools (other than those who are mainly or exclusively responsible for providing religious instruction) should not be employed, dismissed, promoted, demoted or otherwise discriminated against on the basis of their protected characteristics under the Equality Act.
  7. Lack of social cohesion and social tensions with a religious aspect have a number of causes including segregated housing, all of which need to be tackled, but that segregation of school children, based on religion, can also be a contributory factor or cause of communities failing to integrate or growing apart.

Conference therefore calls for a new approach to state-funded faith schools which:

  1. Ensures that religious education in all state-funded schools:
    1. Is kept separate from any religious instruction.
    2. Covers all the major religious and non-religious viewpoints.
    3. Is part of the party’s proposed slimmed-down national curriculum, appropriate to local circumstances.
    4. Is included in inspections by Ofsted.
  2. Ensures that staff in faith schools are employed only on the basis of merit, with exemptions to allow candidates’ beliefs to be a factor in recruitment only for those staff who are mainly or exclusively responsible for providing religious instruction.
  3. Allows state-funded schools to hold acts of worship and provide religious instruction, but repeals the existing legal requirement for all state-funded schools to hold acts of collective worship, and for non-religious schools to hold acts of worship of a broadly Christian character.
  4. Requires schools to ensure that any act of worship and any religious instruction is optional for members of staff directly employed by the school, and for pupils who are mature enough to decide for themselves and otherwise for parents, and that suitable alternative activities are provided for these pupils.

5. Ensures that selection in admissions on the basis of religion or belief to state-funded schools is phased out over up to six years.

Applicability: England.

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