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Is end of 50 per cent cap a good idea?

    YES - Rabbi David Meyer

    It is essential that the government remove the 50 per cent cap on faith schools.

    The cap was introduced with the aim of supporting inclusivity and tolerance and to try to combat rising fundamentalism, and in this objective it has failed.

    Within our community a number of free faith schools have been established, and these are excellent schools with a genuine desire to be inclusive.

    However, looking more broadly across the faith communities, it becomes apparent that the intention of creating a school model with a broad intake has not been achieved. For example, 91 per cent of children attending the Hindu free schools are of Asian ethnic origin.

    Indeed, the evidence suggests that the rule does not achieve inclusivity, but has had the unintended outcome of preventing some high-performing faith schools from expanding or establishing new schools.

    There are those who are determined to undermine the validity of faith schools, which make up around a third of the state schools and, as the Prime Minister highlighted, are among the most successful schools in this country.

    The 50 per cent rule effectively prohibits religious people attending faith schools due to their religious beliefs. It removes the right of parents to bring up their children according to their wishes, saying, in effect, "there are enough religious children in this school". And it forces such a school to admit in their place children who do not necessarily subscribe to the faith-based values, and would be just as happy at another school nearby.

    Interestingly, faith schools often have a more diverse intake than mainstream schools, with students travelling from further afield and forming a wider socio-economic spread, which itself is of great value in breaking down barriers.

    The proposed legislation upholds the rights of parents and requires free schools to promote community cohesion through initiatives such as twinning arrangements with other schools not of their faith.

    Our community's schools are already founded on these principles, instilling a pride in our religion and imbuing a respect for others and a responsibility to protect the values of our country.

    There is perhaps no stronger argument to support faith schools than the achievement of our own community's schools. Year on year they are among the top performers in the country, and perhaps more importantly, have alumni who become leaders of our community and play a valued role in wider society.

    Rabbi Meyer is executive director of the Partnerships for Jewish Schools

    NO - Rabbi Danny Rich

    Leadership is sometimes about the difficulty between principle and practice, the balance between maintaining one's pure values and the pragmatism of working with others to achieve the possible.

    The question of faith schools for the Liberal Jew may be such a scenario. Liberal Jews find themselves divided on the desirability of faith schools per se but, even were they to agree that they are not a good thing, it is highly unlikely that, in a time when one in three primary and one in five secondary schools have a faith foundation, any political party will be elected on a pledge of abolishing them.

    Therefore we do not involve ourselves in the futile debate, "Are Faith Schools Good or Bad for the Cohesion of British Society?" but instead considers the nature of present and future faith schools.

    There is no doubt that we would support the government's recently announced intention that pupils educated in faith schools should have more opportunities to be integrated with their peers from other faith and non-faith backgrounds.

    Under pressure from the Catholic authorities, the government also proposed that the rule for the establishment of new faith schools should change.

    Currently the founders of a new free faith school have to offer half of the places on a basis other than the child's faith.

    While in practice a number of new Jewish schools have informally discouraged such applications from non-Jewish children (for example by making kippot and tzitzit part of school uniforms), a number have been forced to become more diverse and inclusive.

    Other Jewish schools, including the new South London Mosaic Jewish Primary School and the Jewish Communal Secondary School (JCoSS), have explicitly welcomed pupils of different faiths or none, and a visit to the King David Primary Jewish School in either Birmingham or Liverpool attests to the successful integration of Muslim and other pupils into a Jewish school.

    The removal of the 50 per cent cap will, I suspect, encourage applications from Jewish (and Christian and Muslim) schools which wish to use taxpayer's money to offer pupils an exclusive and narrow experience fit for the last century if not before, rather than an inclusive integrated education for the 21st century.

    Whether a supporter or opponent of faith schools in principle, the removal of the 50 per cent cap could lead to a raft of new schools which will bring little of value to their pupils but, worse, increase the growing ghettoisation of Britain.

    Rabbi Danny Rich is senior rabbi of Liberal Judaism

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