The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has called for religion to be banned as a criterion for school admissions in England, in what religious leaders and MPs have branded a “secular-inspired attack” on faith schools.
The CRC concluded that “preventing the use of religion as a selection criterion for schools admissions in England” was a priority. It also recommended repealing legal provisions for compulsory attendance in collective worship, and called on the Government to establish statutory guidance to ensure that children have the right to withdraw from religious classes without parental consent.
The report has sparked a backlash from MPs, religious leaders and faith school providers who said it was “illiberal” to deny religious families education based on faith.
Nick Fletcher, the Conservative MP for Don Valley and a member of the Education Select Committee, described it as an apparent “attack on people and institutions of faith”.
“It does not seem to come from a position of tolerance but rather one of intolerance,” he said.
“I have confidence that here in the UK we will continue to respect Christianity and the other great faiths.”
Monsignor Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester and a Catholic convert, added: “This sounds like a secular-inspired attack against faith and its influence in society. Parents are the primary persons responsible for their children’s upbringing – the state has only a supporting role.”
He added: “Wouldn’t this committee better spend its time working out how Afghan girls can go back to school at all?
Paul Barber, director of the Catholic Education Service, added: “Parents have the right to raise and educate their children within their own religious framework and it would be illiberal to remove this basic right from them.
“Catholic schools are more ethnically diverse and serve more of the pupils from the most deprived backgrounds than the state sector.”