November 21, 2012
Free U.K. Schools That Select Students by Religion Survive 'Test Case'
(UPDATED) Debate continues over 'free schools' program; 100 approved in July, including three that teach creationism.
Update (Feb. 19): Many British religious groups seeking to open free schools are facing intimidation after a freedom of information request forced the government to reveal the list of applicants. Of the 518 applications revealed, 81 come from explicitly Christian groups.
The British High Court rejected a challenge last week to the opening of Catholic faith schools in Richmond, West London, preserving the schools' right to selectively admit students based on their religious background.
According to The Guardian, the case is "the first legal challenge to new schools over religious discrimination." Other observers speculated that the case would be a precedent-setting "test case" for other religious schools throughout the U.K.
A judge rejected a bid by the British Humanist Association and local parents to review Richmond's offer of £8.4 million to the Catholic Diocese of Westminster to establish a new Catholic school. Parents claimed the offer "breached national rules on school admissions" and any such school should have "religiously inclusive admissions policies."
The debate over whether the government should use state money to fund schools that advocate religion has been ongoing. In July, the UK approved the opening of more than 100 free, state-funded schools, a third of which identified themselves as religious schools. Twenty of those schools are "designated [as] faith schools and will be able to select some pupils on this basis," The Guardian reported. The schools are scheduled to open as early as September 2013.
CT previously reported that Prime Minister David Cameron's new education plan allows "parents, teachers, religious organizations, and other private groups to set up schools that would receive direct government funds."
The most-recent approval of schools has also fueled concerns about creationism being taught in the free schools funded by the state. Creationism was banned from being taught in science classes by the British Department for Education. However, Gove said he would consider applications for those who wanted to teach creationism in other disciplines on an individual basis. In July, he approved funding for three free schools with creationist views.
CT has covered the ongoing debate over religion in free schools, including Gove's response to prominent atheist Richard Dawkins regarding the founding of atheist schools, as well as on the ban on creationism in free schools.