Archive for the ‘News Releases’ Category

Press Release: Six new faith schools for Shropshire

May 20, 2008

On Monday 19 May the Shropshire County Council Cabinet decided to proceed with their plan to create six new faith schools. Each of these primary schools will take pupils from closing two existing schools.

The Church of England advocates closing fully inclusive Community Schools in order to create their new faith schools. The only merger the CofE object to is the one where both original schools are already under their control.

A report by the Centre for the Economics of Education, based at the London School of Economics takes a look at the myths in favour of Church schools. When all factors are fully considered, they concluded “there is no difference between expected attainment in Faith Primary schools and expected attainment in any other school type (and possibly even a negative impact from Church of England Schools)”.

The Council’s proposals now go to consultation for six weeks.

Marches Secularists, the only public watchdog on religion in the area, wants to hear from parents and others who are concerned about this wholesale takeover of schools by the Church. Chairman@MarchesSecularists.org www.MarchesSecularists.org.

Advertisements

Press Release: Politics and religion cannot mix

April 25, 2008

An open meeting of the Marches Secularists was held at the Checkers Inn in Montgomery on Tues 22nd April.

Mirian Walton and Alan Goater gave a talk about their experience of living in Palestine. Both speakers were aware of how the Palestinian/ Israeli question impacts on our lives today. They had visited Palestine recently, living for several months amongst Palestinians in the West Bank.

The most important points that the speakers raised were those of the difficulty for the Palestinians of living under Israeli control. In theory there should be land for the Palestinians and land for the Israelis. Land for Palestinians is shrinking each year as Israeli settlements on Palestinian land grow apace. Will the Palestinians eventually be forced out of their land because of the political and social conditions imposed on them – the wall, the checkpoints, the restrictions on exports?

This question is of importance to all of us, yet who is aware of the history and political background? The Israeli/Palestinian problem is seen by many as a simple religious division between two groups of people. This is not the case. It is a case of conflict growing up under religious hatred. It is a radicalising sore for many people.

The Marches Secularists are part of a nationwide secular movement that wishes to raise public consciousness of the inappropriate influence of religion in state institutions. The group believes that in a democratic society all people should be free to choose their own beliefs, free from the prejudice and intolerance of others.

For further information visit our website: www.MarchesSecularists.org. The group meets monthly in towns across the Marches area, and members can receive weekly news from the National Secular Society.

South Wye residents reject C of E faith school

August 14, 2007

Marches Secularists conducted an unbiased poll of South Wye residents asking them whether they wanted Wyebridge Sports College to become a faith school.

Their most significant finding is just how few people in the catchment area of Wyebridge Sports College (formally Haywood High School) know anything about the Church’s scheme to take control of the college; fewer still know how far advanced along the process the Church is.

Could it be that the Church is just poor at communicating, or they are trying to do this by stealth before residents realise what is going on?

It would not be surprising if the church wanted to keep quiet about its activities, as most people are not in favour of divisive faith schools. They have seen the tragedy that sectarian faith schools caused in Northern Ireland.

Indeed, Marches Secularists received one letter from a Christian, presumably Catholic, which said “May the Great Spirit guide you. Head [sic] the true words of the philosophies of Jesus of Nazareth” and described the C of E as “an utter fraud” and a “fake religious organisation”. This enmity between faiths will only be exacerbated with more faith schools.

National Polls by Guardian/ICM, NOP, YouGov, and New Statesman have all shown that at least 60% of the population are against the increase in faith schools.

The local poll in South Wye produced a similar result, even though some in favour of the CofE takeover voted in man-and-wife teams, and in one case wanted to vote on behalf of their daughter and son-in-law as well. Despite this, the poll produced 62% against the college becoming a faith school with only 38% agreeing with the Church scheme. More poll results will be placed on our website, http://www.MarchesSecularists.org over the next few days.

Marches Secularists would welcome a more extensive poll conducted by an
independent pollster, using equally unbiased questions.

Additional poll information

64% are against the increase in the number of religious schools,agreeing that “the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind” according to a Guardian/ICM poll.

79% say that separating children according to religious belief is as wrong as separating them according to colour or accent, according to an NOP poll.

80% oppose the expansion of faith schools according to a YouGov poll.

96% or respondents to BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Programme on-line poll thought that “faith schools breed segregation”

In Leicester, a city with great ethnic diversity, 81% were opposed to the increase in the number of faith schools in a poll by the Leicester Mercury.

96% thought “Tony Blair should end his support for faith schools” in a poll by the
New Statesman.

Faith schools risk break-up of social cohesion

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons education select committee, has warned that religious schools pose a threat to the cohesion of multicultural communities “Schools play a crucial role in integrating different communities and the growth of faith schools poses a real threat to this.”

The Ark research body of Northern Ireland’s two universities and academics from the Australian National University carried out studies between 1989 and 2003 in state schools, integrated schools and Roman Catholic schools.

The evidence indicated that faith schools reinforce sectarianism rather than promoting integration.

The in-depth study supports the view that faith schools in Northern Ireland were a major contributing factor in ‘The Troubles’ that caused thousands of deaths and untold fear in Northern Ireland. Something we hope to avoid on the UK mainland.

Earlier this year the Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, criticised Islamic schools, saying they posed a challenge to the
coherence of British society “traditional Islamic education does not entirely fit pupils for their lives as Muslims in modern Britain”.

CofE wants to Discriminate

The Church of England requested the removal of employment protection of non-religious head teachers and non-teaching staff in various types of “faith schools”.

The Government has complied with this request, which is now enacted in Section 37 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006.

This puts at risk the careers of tens of thousands of hard working and committed non-religious staff.

Press Release 27th July 2007

July 27, 2007

On Tuesday, our open evening on the consequences of Church takeover of Wyebridge Sports College was well attended, with extra chairs needing to be put out.

There will be a further meeting, designed to inform people who wish to know more, on 6th August at the Game Cock on Holme Lacy Road, at 7:45 for 8pm.

The poll of whether people in South Wye want the college to be taken over will now close at Midnight Sunday 12th August to allow people to attend this meeting before making up their minds. The poll question is:

The Department for Education and Skills is working to give the school to the Church of England to open as a Church Academy. Accountability would then be to the Church of England rather than to the local authority or to parents.

Do you…
(A) Agree with this, and want it run on ‘Christian Values’ and for ‘the extension of the Kingdom of God’.
(B) Don’t care.
(C) Want the school to remain accountable, and be run for the benefit of pupils, whatever
their beliefs, without religious interference.

It is your local secondary school, please tell us what you want.

Text your name and your reply to 07890-319675
Or email Secretary@MarchesSecularists.org

Or write to us at
The Roundhouse, Kinsley Road, Knighton, LD7 1DY

Residents Consulted over Religious Threat to Wyebridge Sports College

July 27, 2007

Hereford residents who live in the catchment area of Wyebridge Sports College are being consulted by Marches Secularists. They want to hear from anyone who cares whether the school (formerly Haywood High School) is taken over by the Church as part of the Church’s current expansion scheme to control 100 more state secondary schools.

The Church of England control over a fifth of all tax-payer funded schools. They already run one of Hereford’s secondary schools; another is run by the Catholic Church. If the Church succeeds in taking over another, only two of the five will remain non-biased community schools.

At present, Wyebridge Sports College is run by, and accountable to, the Local Authority and to parents. There are 4 governors appointed by the authority, and 7 governors elected by parents. There are also staff governors elected by the staff. This would change under academy status. C of E Academies have a majority of governors appointed by the Church, with a requirement for only 1 token governor each to represent the local authority and parents.

Academies are not bound by the 1944 Education Act, or any of the subsequent Education Acts, as they are not classed as state schools, despite being paid for by the tax payer. The body of law that protects the rights of children and parents does not apply to academies. As a result, C of E academies are not accountable to anyone but themselves. The school would be controlled by religious interests alone.

Ofsted say that the existing college “is providing a sound quality of education and is improving thanks to good leadership at every level. The key reason for improvements in the behaviour, attendance and attainment of students can be traced to a new and common team spirit amongst staff, modelled well by the leadership team and driven by good head teacher leadership”.

The inspector’s notes state “We were particularly struck by the consistent message you all gave about how much better the school is now, compared to a couple of years ago. We agree and think that the school is doing a sound job in giving you a secure education that will serve you well in the future.”

The school achieved specialist status last year, and is part of Herefordshire Excellence Cluster.

So why change it? Other schools that have been taken over have unfairly been branded as ‘failing’ as an excuse for the takeover, and the academies that have replaced the schools have often produced worse results than the school they replaced.

Handing over more state funded schools to religious control is unpopular with the general public. Every even-handed poll to date has demonstrated this. To find out whether the same is true in Hereford, Marches Secularists are running the following poll for the people of South Hereford. Entries must be in by midnight on Sunday, August 12th.

The Department for Education and Skills (Department for Children, Schools and Families) is working to give the school to the Church of England to open as a Church Academy. Accountability would then be to the Church of England rather than to the local authority or to parents.

Do you…
(A) Agree with this, and want it run on ‘Christian Values’ and for ‘the extension of the Kingdom of God’.
(B) Don’t care.
(C) Want the school to remain accountable, and be run for the benefit of pupils, whatever
their beliefs, without religious interference.

It is your local secondary school, please tell us what you want.

Text your name and your reply to 07890-319675
Or email Secretary@MarchesSecularists.org

Or write to us at:
Marches Secularists, The Roundhouse, Kinsley Road, Knighton, LD7 1DY

This consultation is remarkably fair as it uses the Church’s phrases in option A and the secularist wording for option C. This is in stark contrast to the survey put out by those in favour of an academy in Merton where the options they put forward were unfair:

“Yes, I am in favour of raising standards at [the schools] by getting academy status” and “No, I am against these changes to [the schools] designed to improve examination results”. The public need to be wary of pro academy polls that use deliberately misleading wording.

So, do academies produce better results than the schools they replace? The West London Academy produced worse GCSE results than its predecessor, despite the academy excluding a huge number of its worst pupils. Ofsted said, after the academy’s first inspection “the visit has raised serious concerns about the standard of education provided by the academy”. Ofsted’s second report said that achievement standards were ‘inadequate’. In the 2004 GCSE results, 11 academies were listed. Five showed no improvement and one had the second worst results in England. In the 2005 league tables for 14 year olds, nine of the eleven academies were in the bottom 200 schools in England. It is a myth that academies naturally do better than the schools they replace. At least one academy has failed its Ofsted inspection altogether and was in special measures. In 2006 half of the academies were named among the worst-performing schools in England based on GCSE results. The number of pupils gaining 5 GCSE s at A* to C (including Maths and English) in C of E Academies is less than half the number achieved by pupils in normal schools.

Hereford School to become a Religious Academy

July 17, 2007

Wyebridge Sports College (formerly Haywood High School) is to be handed over to religious control if the government gets it way. The proposed academy is in the last phase of approval.
State schools and normal Church of England schools are accountable to parents and the local authority. If allowed to go ahead, the Academy will no longer be accountable to local people. The Church will appoint more than 50% of both the Academy’s Trust and Governing Body. While most local clergy are moderate people, they are declining in number; eventually they will be replaced by the growing, but less savoury American style evangelicals. By the time this happens, it will be too late, the Academy will be firmly in their grip.

Even the existing liberal wing of Christians see this as a device to indoctrinate. Hereford Church of England Diocese say “We expect the health specialism to be developed so that it can include the dimensions of social, community and spiritual health”.
Their document tells us “The church centrally believes this is a major way it can support the extension of the Kingdom of God”.

A mysterious donor has produced £1.5 million for the Church so that it can qualify to run the academy (the tax payer will foot the bill for both the capital costs and running costs). Where has this secret £1.5m come from? Is it tax payer’s money from an illegal government slush fund? Or is it from an American right wing evangelical organisation that believes in Creationism? Or is it ill-gotten money? Why do you think the donor does not want to be found out? When it comes to a state funded school, we think that there should be no hidden agenda; the public have a right to know who is behind it.

If you believe that schooling should be about education rather than religious indoctrination, and care about the thousands of children that will be sent there, join our campaign to stop this school being handed over. A campaign by local people prevented another state school from being taken over in Leicestershire, and a strong campaign is working in Oxford. Let’s unite to keep religious indoctrination out of our local schools.

Local Campaigners meet with UN

June 15, 2007

Two representatives of the Marches Secularists were among ten secularists and humanists who met with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ms Asma Jahangir. The two-hour meeting took place in London on the 5th June. The two were given the opportunity to present their views alongside the President of the National Secular Society and the Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association as part of Ms Jahangir’s two week visit to the UK.

Dr Antony Lempert from Bishops Castle, the human rights officer for the Marches Secularist group said that it was an honour to meet with Ms Jahangir. With her proud record of human rights activism in Pakistan, she is ideally placed to understand the iniquities of a country tied to one religious denomination. She listened attentively to our concerns and agreed with much of what we had to say. She reflected that making the necessary changes to basic civil liberties might be a slow process due to religious sensibilities.

The topics discussed in the meeting ranged from the Establishment of the Church of England, through education, and non-democratic consultation with religious groups, to the refusal of the government to follow the Scottish example of legalising humanist weddings. The group expressed their views that the formal and informal influence given to the church is inimical to equality and real freedom of belief. The group recognised that the more secular a state is, the greater freedom there is for everyone to follow their own beliefs. A secular state would protect all people, irrespective of their belief or lack of it.

Mr. Connor Birch, the Secretary of Marches Secularists, introduced the various speakers to Ms Jahangir. In his introduction to the session, Connor said “We are here today because we are concerned about human rights abuses, lack of cohesion in society, terrorism, and war caused by governments who give preferential treatment to one or more religious interests at the expense of everyone else.

Ms Jahangir was told, for example, that most faith schools are wholly funded by the taxpayer whilst having special dispensation to discriminate against teachers, parents and children on the grounds of their religion or lack of it. Even in community schools the law requires all pupils to attend daily acts of religious worship of a broadly christian nature unless their parents withdraw them. Few schools inform parents that they have this right, so many children are forced to endure worship that is meaningless to them.

Ms Jahangir was reminded that there are 26 bishops with an automatic right to sit in the House of Lords wielding undemocratic and unrepresentative influence particularly on contentious moral issues such as abortion and the right to die. This is despite approximately two thirds of people in the UK having no religious affiliation, with at least one third who not believe in any god. Less than 10% regularly attend any religious services.

The bias in favour of the Church of England encourages those of other denominations to ask for similar rights. This leads to a ‘levelling-up’ of the influence of all religious groups. This privileges and empowers self-styled ‘faith leaders’ who are often more extreme than those they claim to represent. Handing disproportional influence to these people can damage social cohesion. Similarly, those without religious belief are frequently and undemocratically excluded from legitimate debate.
Religious groups have certain exemptions from employment law and from goods, facilities and services law which allow them to discriminate against those of other religions and the non-religious. Since Government is encouraging the contracting out of public services to religious groups, the scale of this discrimination is set to increase.

The blasphemy law serves to stifle legitimate criticism and artistic expression, usually of the troubling topics that would most benefit from open and honest debate. It was recognised that our blasphemy law no longer carries the death penalty as it does in Ms Jahangir’s home country.

Marches Secularists can be reached at Secretary@MarchesSecularists.org.