Harry Perry has written the First Person column in today's Leicester Mercury:
Faith schools help reinforce social divisions
State education must not be allowed to discriminate by religion, says Harry Perry of Leicester Secular Society
All state-funded schools should be open to all children regardless of their parents' religion. Seems obvious when stated like that, doesn't it? Taxpayers from across the belief spectrum pay for our state schools yet there is in our country a Government-promoted policy for large numbers of publicly funded schools to be allowed to discriminate on the basis of parents' beliefs.
Why should that be? We also pay for the NHS, police and armed forces, for roads and social services and for the criminal justice system, yet nobody would dream of arguing aspects of these should be managed differently for people with different beliefs. So it should be for schools.
Even where faith schools have made pledges to ensure a mixed intake, we find admissions are skewed towards children of their own religion.
A national campaign has been launched to oppose religiously selective school admissions policies. It is called the Fair Admissions Campaign and you can easily find it on the web.
This campaign is particularly relevant in Leicester, where diversity of beliefs and communal harmony are trumpeted as our unique selling point in a world where religious conflict is a growing threat to international peace.
Elsewhere, we hear of children from families with the "wrong" beliefs being forced to travel far to find a non-discriminatory school.
There is a growing trend for parents to lie about their religious beliefs and even to attend services as part of the deception, in order to get their kids into a favoured school. How can that be a good example?
The most dramatically segregated schooling system in the UK is in Northern Ireland, but even there, after decades of civil strife, politicians are now pressing for integration.
Why is it important? It must be clear – especially from recent events – that so many of the tensions and conflicts in the UK and elsewhere are based on faith and ethnic divisions. Our communities remain riven by the differences which we should be learning to set aside.
Religiously selective schools cannot, of course, be held solely responsible for these problems, but they do underpin a system in which children learn they are different. They do not build friendships with others and the separation of children within schools reinforces wider divisions, as parents do not meet at the school gate.
It is vital individuals throughout the education system recognise and adhere to an inter-cultural approach that seeks at every opportunity to get people to mix rather than living with a constant emphasis on difference.