UN Demands UK Schools to Halt Religion-Based Pupil Selection

The United Nations has called on schools in the United Kingdom to end the selective admission of students based on their faith and provided other recommendations to prevent religious discrimination in schools across the country.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child published its periodic review of children’s rights in the United Kingdom on June 2nd. The report concluded that the country should prioritize “preventing the use of religion as a selection criterion for school admissions in England.

Some of the other recommendations highlighted by the UN committee’s report include revoking laws that require students to attend collective worship in schools, repealing the right of parents to withdraw their children from sex education, and establishing statutory guidance to ensure that students can withdraw from religious classes without needing consent from their parents.

The report by the UNCRC received backlash from religious leaders and some Members of Parliament, with Paul Berber, Director of the Catholic Education Service, describing the report's findings as “illiberal.

He also claimed that “Catholic schools are more ethnically diverse and serve more of the pupils from the most deprived backgrounds than the state sector.

The former bishop of Rochester, Monsignor Michael Nazir-Ali, described the report as a “secular-inspired” attack against faith schools and urged the UNCRC to look at other countries such as Afghanistan instead of the United Kingdom.

The Church of England also expressed confusion about the report’s recommendations on collective worship. It claimed that since the passage of the 1944 Education Act, parents have been able to withdraw their children from religious classes.

However, laws in England and Wales mandate that students at all schools "shall on each school day take part in an act of collective worship,” with Scotland and Northern Ireland having similar statutes. These laws also require that worship must be "wholly or mainly of a Christian character,” even for schools with no religious character, making the United Kingdom the only Western democracy to have laws requiring worship in public schools.

The National Secular Society in the UK, which raised the issue of faith-based selection in schools to the UN, welcomed the report from the UNCRC, with Megan Manson, head of campaigns, urging the British Government to act on the report’s findings.

Responding to the report, a spokesperson from the UK’s Department For Education said: “Like all other mainstream state-funded schools, faith schools must admit all children who apply, without reference to faith, where there are places available.

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