British archbishop denounces 'bigoted' faith schools policy

.- Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham has denounced a government proposal, which would control admissions to all new Catholic schools in England, as “muddled” and “prejudiced”.

An amendment to the government’s Education Bill was tabled last week in Parliament. The proposal would force new faith-based schools to admit 25 percent of students from other religions or no religion.

In a letter to the head teachers at the country’s 2,075 Catholic schools, the archbishop noted that while there already exists an hefty enrollment of non-Catholics in most Catholic schools and while Catholic schools are not closed to non-Catholic applicants, "the amendment will, in effect, remove from new Catholic schools control over their admissions."  He pointed out that the proposal was drafted without consulting religious bodies, and he urged the teachers to communicate their outrage at the proposal and at the government’s “coercive measures” with their members of Parliament.

An opinion piece he authored on the proposal was also published in the Daily Telegraph yesterday. The archbishop was scheduled to meet Education Secretary Alan Johnson to discuss the proposal today.

In his Telegraph article, the archbishop said the proposal is based on inaccurate information and on the false assumption that Catholic, and other faith-based schools, are divisive and not representative.

“Oft-stated statistics confirm that the pupils in a Catholic school closely reflect the national school population in terms of levels of disadvantage and special educational needs,” the archbishop pointed out. “Catholic schools have a higher proportion of pupils from minority ethnic groups than other schools. “

“Catholic schools, on average, already welcome 30 per cent of their pupils from other Churches, faiths or none,” his article reads.

The archbishop said studies also show that Catholic schools are twice as effective as other schools at developing respect for others and are also successful at social integration.

In his article, he warned ministers that they risk losing the co-operation and respect of the very faith groups they need to build a harmonious society.

“A precondition of this co-operation (between faith organizations and the government) is that partners must be treated with respect for what they are and what they can contribute,” he said.

The archbishop also criticized the attempted model of multi-culturalism that has been implemented within a purely secular mindset, one which does not recognize spiritual and religious roots.

“The diversity of cultures has been encouraged, but without genuine engagement with their moral values or beliefs,” he wrote. “This has left us with a spiritual vacuum at the heart of life, illustrated in the poverty of so much religious education in state schools.”

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