RISC at the House of Lords

Natalie and Jeremy were invited to address a meeting of the All Party Parlimentary Humanist Group on 26 Feb 2013. The other speakers were Rabbi Jonathan Romain, the head of the Accord Coalition, and Professor Ted Cantle, a leading authority on community cohesion, and author of the "Cantle report" into the Oldham riots a few years ago. The topic was faith schools and school admissions.

Speaking first, Ted Cantle talked about how the Cantle Report found segregated schools were a major contributor to different ethnic communities in a locality living ‘parallel lives’, with religious school admissions being a big contributor to this issue. Ted pointed to evidence showing that UK schools are the most segregated in Europe, and how the situation has got worse in the decade since he wrote his report. He also lamented the fact that Ofsted is no longer required to inspect schools specifically on their contribution to community cohesion, which previously guaranteed all schools were mindful of their separate legal duty to promote it.

Jeremy spoke about RISC’s campaign over the last two years against the proposals to establish the voluntary aided Catholic schools in Twickenham, and seeking an inclusive school instead. He pointed out how the Department for Education had intervened in RISC's court case in a way that seemed to contradict what it said in Parliament, in order to allow the Church to continue to set up 100% selective schools. Jeremy emphasised that RISC was a broad coalition of local people with supporters from across the religion and belief spectrum, and that admissions was really the key issue. Jeremy asked, ‘How can it be right for a state-funded school to turn away local children simply because of their parents’ religion or belief?’

Natalie recounted how her personal experience of unfairness in her children’s acces to local primary schools some years earlier led her to get involved in RISC. She recalled attending open days at her three nearest schools, only to find her children could not get into two of them because she and her husband are not Christians. One of them has an admissions policy which selects from seven different categories of Catholics family, before finally turning to other "looked after" children in category number 8. Natalie said that she is not happy that her children will not sit next to children of Catholics in their school.

Finally, Jonathan Romain asked everyone to imagine if other parts of the state system could discriminate in this way – ‘no Jews in the army’ or ‘no Catholics in hospitals’. Jonathan argued passionately that ‘it is right that state schools are inclusive both in principle and because it is best for society’.

Click for Jeremy's speech and Natalie's.