East London Humanist chair Paul Kaufman is worried about schools becoming academies


- Credit: Archant

Government plans to compel all council run schools to become academies will have a huge impact on Newham.

Although the detail is yet to be decided, humanists already have concerns which many will share.

A relatively large proportion of Newham schools are currently under local authority control. Most are not defined as having a “religious character.” However, there are presently only weak safeguards which could prevent such schools becoming ‘faith ethos’ academies under a religious multi-academy trust.

This happened this year to four non-religious primary schools in Newcastle taken over by a church run academy group, despite much local opposition.

Why does it matter? One reason is that faith ethos academies can quickly become divisive particularly in a multi-cultural borough. They immediately gain the right to discriminate on religious grounds regarding governance and employment of staff, and by formally registering a religious character they can discriminate in admitting pupils.

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As for teaching religious education, the curriculum in local authority maintained schools without a religious character is currently determined by ‘SACRES.’ These comprise local faith group representatives. Newham, like other progressive authorities, also includes a humanist who represents the beliefs of the large proportionwho are non-religious. It is yet to be seen how decisions will be made on what will be taught in the new academies and whether local views will be fairly represented.

Another area of concern is sex and relationship education (SRE). Humanists believe all children have the right to full, accurate, age-appropriate SRE, and there is strong evidence this has great health and emotional benefits. But academies are under no obligation to give children unbiased information on, for example, sexuality, contraception or AIDS.

The British Humanist Association has long fought for a modern secular education system where no faith or belief enjoys an advantage. It is probably unique in employing a full time campaigner to this end. It looks like he will have his work cut out for a long time to come! More from Paul

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