Monday 1st September 2008 saw the official launch of Accord, a coalition campaigning for inclusive education and opposing the practice of faith schools to select pupils and staff on the basis of religion. The coalition includes religious groups, humanists, trade unions and human rights groups; plus a wide array of big name supporters including religious leaders and some familiar humanists and secularist thinkers.
I won’t waste time rehashing their basic information, so I’ll point you towards their website to find out more about Accord and their aims. I will say that I am very interested to see what will happen and how things will develop. Despite being a longstanding atheist, I am a firm believer in interfaith, education and working together. I support a secular state, not because I seek to abolish religion but because I believe that the fairest and most respectful way for the state to behave towards religion is to remain secular and neutral. The state should neither privilege nor persecute religion.
There have been various articles in the media and it’s interesting to see how the story has been approached. The BBC talks about New pressure over faith schools and includes comments from some who support Accord and some who oppose their demands. The Guardian highlights the employment rights aspect with Campaigners fight to stop schools recruiting staff based on religion. The Independent focuses on the segregation issues asking whether Faith school education ‘will fragment education’. The Times takes the angle of faith school selection processes: Lotteries for all comprehensive places would help poor children, says charity. Finally, The Telegraph includes it with a story about a Hindu school: First state Hindu school opens its doors.
The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that the Accord launch is timed to coincide with the latest development for faith schools. As of September 1st 2008, faith schools are allowed to include religion in their selection criteria for any school staff and not just for the intake of pupils. I welcome Accord as an opportunity to open up discussion on the ramifications of segregating education on the grounds of faith in this multicultural society we have today.