Schools will not be compelled to teach other faiths


The government has made clear that faith schools will not be forced to teach about other religions.

Representatives of Orthodox Jewish schools welcomed the assurances, which came in new guidelines on promoting British values in schools.

A number of independent and state-aided schools, including Jewish schools, have recently fallen foul of inspectors for failing to do enough to make pupils aware of Britain's cultural diversity. In one Muslim independent school, inspectors made a point of noting in their report that children were not learning about other religions.

But in draft regulations for independent schools which are likely to become law shortly, the Department for Education stated that "there is no requirement for a faith school to promote other faiths as well as its own".

Charedi schools have also been dismayed at recent instances of inspectors asking pupils about gay marriage.

But the draft rules appear to go some way to alleviating such concerns by making clear that schools do not have to promote alternative lifestyles or same-sex marriage. Rather, pupils must learn to "respect other people, even if they choose to follow a lifestyle that one would not choose to follow oneself".

Advice for local authority state-aided schools, which was also published by the DFE, last week, also state that "it is not necessary for schools or individuals to 'promote' teachings, beliefs or opinions that conflict with their own". But they must not encourage discrimination against people or groups on the basis of "their belief, opinion or background".

Jonathan Rabson, executive director of the National Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools (Najos) - which had previously voiced disquiet on behalf of schools on the religious right - said that he was encouraged by revision of the guidelines. "Our schools actively uphold British law and we have always promoted tolerance and respect for others, whatever their faith," he said.

Najos chairman Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag also found it "encouraging" that ministers had listened to its concerns.

Board of Deputies senior vice-president Laura Marks said that the new guidance should "not prevent schools from teaching about Judaism while meeting its requirements." But it would continue to make the case for inspectors to show cultural sensitivity in implementing it, she said.

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