(Note: all letters to the council or to council staff must signed, have a reply address, a contact telephone number and, optionally, and email address.) Address of sender Telephone: xxxxx Email: xxxxx Date: xxxxx Name of recipient Title of recipient Address of recipient Dear title, name, Proposed Faith Academy or School at xxxx We are writing to express our concern about plans for the above academy. We would welcome an opportunity to talk in person to you, or your colleagues, on this matter. Like everyone in the county, we welcome the possible injection of capital into a new school and we hope it will do a great deal to enable our young people to play a full and responsible role in society. Our concern relates to the nature of the school, its funding, the way in which it will be run, the nature of the public consultation that will take place before it begins construction and the curriculum. Nature of the school At a time of increasing tensions between religious communities, and at a time when it is desirable to promote understanding, respect and tolerance between ethnic and religious communities, we feel that pupils should be provided with open-minded and unbiased information about all belief systems, religious and non-religious, so that they may make up their own minds about which faith, if any, they follow as adults. We do not object to religion or teaching about religion but we do not feel that a faith-based, or faith- sponsored, school meets this open-minded and unbiased ideal. Funding and finance We are concerned that government policy seems more willing to fund sponsored schools, in particular faith-based schools, than it is to fund local authority controlled schools. To the outsider this seems like financial blackmail - “no school unless it is a sponsored academy.” Technically, we know that sponsors are supposed to provided 10% of the capital (building) costs of a new school while taxpayers find the remaining 90%. We note that 100% of resulting assets are the property of the sponsors. We also understand that taxpayers will fund 100% of ongoing costs including equipment and staff salaries. The track record of sponsors for current faith schools is not a good one in terms of finance, Some have not yet paid a penny even though schools have been up and running for years, some have provided management and other contracts to their own companies or groups without putting them out to tender, some have borrowed under PFI or against the school’s assets, some have used endowments rather than providing capital funds and some have used pre-tax funds to avoid income and corporation tax. In some cases neither the local authority nor the government has checked on the legality of the source of the funds. The Church of England Dearing Report, 2001, outlines methods where the 10% can be “found” without direct cost to the church. Running the school Professional bodies, trade unions and others argued and campaigning throughout the 20th century to remove the shackles of discrimination from those capable of doing the job. Appointments should be based entirely on merit and on the ability to do the job. Over the last forty years governments, Labour and Conservative, have introduced legislation to prevent discrimination in employment and elsewhere. Under legislation earlier this year it is no longer permitted to discriminate on the basis of sexuality – just as it is not permitted to discriminate on the basis of race, colour, gender or disability. Like everyone (well, almost everyone) we applaud this levelling of the playing field and the inherent fairness and justice in such legislation. However, there is one huge exception – religious groups are permitted to discriminate in employment on the basis of gender, sexuality and religion. Faith schools may use religion as a selection criteria for recruiting staff – and as a criteria for dismissing staff. Initially this applied to teaching staff but now the government has broadened it so that discrimination on religious ground can apply to all staff – from the caretaker and the kitchen staff right up to the senior management team and the head teacher. Tribunals are already taking place in cases where staff have been dismissed, or refused promotion, simply on religious grounds. This is disgraceful and goes against hard-won rights established over the last hundred years. Consultation We are sure that the three parties involved in the new school: government, sponsor and local authority; will not proceed without proper and impartial consultation with everyone in the potential catchment area. The school is funded with tax revenue and all tax payers have every right to express their opinions. At a very minimum, everyone in the area, not just parents of primary and secondary school children, should be asked if they would prefer a faith-based school or a normal local authority community school where everyone is welcome – believers and non-believers. There have been many examples in recent years where token consultation has taken place or where a sponsored school has been imposed against the wishes of the local population. We are sure this will not be the case here. We would ask that the council fund an independent survey where the questions are agreed by all the parties involved as well as by those, such as ourselves, who may object to a faith-based school. In the interests of fairness and impartiality perhaps a local University department would be willing to organise such a study? The study would be followed by public meetings where everyone, for and against, can air their views. In anticipation of a proper consultation process taking place, we have drawn up a list of questions we would ask the council the answer by way of background. We enclose a copy of the list. Curriculum and monitoring Sponsors determine the curriculum – normally along the lines of the National Curriculum. However, faith schools have a great amount of “flexibility” in what they do: some Muslim faith schools spend between 25% and 50% of school time teaching religion (in their case, only one religion), most Christian schools teach children that a “God” is a truth – when it is obviously a highly disputed idea - far from a truth. Whether we are believers or non-believers we all need a strong sense of social (moral) values and responsibilities – one does not need a religion to know the difference between right and wrong. “Treat others as you would like them to treat you” is certainly not a religious idea – though we are pleased that it has been adopted by all religions. We are concerned that those pupils educated in faith schools may come to associate values and responsibilities exclusively with religion and, in later years, when they reject religion, as most of them will do, they may also reject those values and responsibilities. All pupils need to acquire social values and personal responsibilities. This is a task for all schools and should not be seen as something for the religious alone. The RE syllabus for local authority schools normally follows the advice of the local Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE). Many SACREs are now following the Non-statutory National Framework for Religious Education (2004). In most cases the RE syllabus teaches about belief systems rather than instructing in a particular religion. So, in many cases, the views of the non-believers and humanists are given a place, a very tiny place, hardly a mention and, in many schools, not even a mention. The assumption in RE remains that “there is a god” - despite the majority of the population no longer being involved in any sort of religion. Faith schools do not have to take the advice of the local authority, they do not have to follow the SACRE syllabus and they do not have to follow any national guidelines. They are totally free to teach what they like about religion, to ignore other religions, to teach that their religion is “right” while other religions are “wrong”, and to ignore the views of those who do not need a religion. This is far from the ideal of open- mined, unbiased education where pupils are provided with the information they need to make their own decisions. This is the area where English education comes closest to indoctrination. The next step? We look forward to the consultation stage of this project and we are sure that the council will do everything it can to ensure that such consultation is genuine, that questions are not loaded, that people are given a chance to air their views in public and that a faith school is not simple imposed on the local community. We would welcome an opportunity to speak to you in person and perhaps to address you and your colleagues in any meetings you may have on this subject. Our concern is that the final decision is made in the full knowledge of the implications of creating yet another faith school at a time when thousands are dying or being maimed in the name of religion – so it is an important topic for all schools – not just faith schools. We have only to turn on our TVs to ask the obvious question – should we be educating children in one faith or should we be giving them open and unbiased information and allowing them to make up their own minds while encouraging them to respect everyone, irrespective of their belief or non-belief. It is worth remembering that each time a new Christian school is opened it encourages those of other religions to press for their own – and events in this country, and around the world, have shown that narrow religious education can lead to the growth of fundamentalism, the denial of science, the abandonment of reason, narrow-minded bigotry, discrimination, oppression (particularly of women) and a willingness to kill and die in the name of a god. We look forward to hearing from you. Please feel free to contact us by phone or email if that is more convenient. Yours sincerely, Signature of sender Name of sender Background questions for the Local Authority (LA) 1. Would the LA have preferred an LA controlled community school if the money had been made available? 2. Why was it not possible to have an LA controlled community school? 3. Did the LA actively seek sponsors - religious and non-religious - for the new school? Did the LA publish this search? 4. Does the LA feel that national government favours faith schools over LA community schools? 5. Who originally proposed that the school be sponsored by a faith group? 6. Is the only reason for supporting a faith school the fact that central government (tax payers') will pay 90% of the capital costs? 7. What other reasons did the LA have for supporting a faith school rather than an LA mixed-intake community school? 8. Has the LA considered the potentially divisive nature of faith schools? 9. Has the LA carried out a survey in the area to see if the local population supports faith schools? 10. Has the LA asked the opinions of parents of primary and secondary age pupils in the local area? 11. Will the LA be conducting public meetings in the local area before giving the go-ahead for the new school? 12. If the LA has not yet carried out a study of local opinion, would it be willing to fund and publish such as study by an independent third party - perhaps by a local University Education Department? 13. Who is providing the 10% required from a sponsor for the capital costs of the new school? 14. Has the LA investigated the background of the sponsor? 15. What is the sponsor's motivation? Does he/she/it hold extreme or biased political or religious beliefs? 16. Where will the sponsor's 10% be coming from - cash, borrowing, endowments, PFI, etc? 17. Exactly what will the sponsor's 10% cover? 18. Will the sponsor's 10% be paid up-front? If not, when will it be paid? 19. What is the true cost paid by the sponsor by the time the school opens? (Allow for any tax breaks, charity status, etc.) 20. Who will be providing the remaining 90% - local or national tax payers? 21. Who will pay all the running costs (equipment, management, wages, etc) - sponsor, local tax payers or national tax payers? 22. Who will "own" the assets of the school: land, buildings, contents etc? 23. Will the sponsor be allowed to borrow against the assets of the school? 24. Who will appoint the head teacher? 25. Who will define the curriculum? 26. Who will define the syllabus in relation to religion? Has the sponsor given an written undertaken that it will not be using tax payers' money for religious indoctrination? 27. How will the LA be monitoring the school to ensure that it teaches about all belief systems, religious and non-religious, without instructing in one? 28. Who will define entrance or selection criteria?