Church of England Opens Schools to Non-Christians

With the aim to provide schools that were both Christian and inclusive, at least a quarter of all places at new Church of England schools will be open to children from non-Christian families, the church's Board of Education said on Tuesday.

The plans have been announced by Kenneth Stevenson, Bishop of Portsmouth and the board's chairman, in a letter to Education Secretary Alan Johnson.

The Catholic Church also said on Tuesday it would look at making its schools more open to other members of local communities.

"Part of a school's Christian commitment is to reach out, to include, not with the purpose of indoctrination but in order to offer education clearly based on Christian values to the wider community," his letter said.

In March, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams hit back at criticism that faith schools were divisive and mainly took children from wealthy middle class families, providing a cheap alternative to private education.

Stevenson said the majority of the 22 secondary schools opened recently served disadvantaged communities and most gave priority to local children or did not admit on the basis on faith.

Although the pledge only refers to new schools, he said most Church of England institutions were already inclusive, but other faith schools should not have to make the same commitment.

The Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, "We will revise our inspection frameworks to ensure that judgments about the contribution that Catholic schools and sixth form colleges make to social cohesion are placed in the public domain."

Last year David Bell, then head of the education standards watchdog Ofsted, said faith schools - which make up around one third of Britain's 22,000 schools - were failing to promote an understanding of other religions.

In February leaders of the Church of England, Catholic, Methodist, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish and Buddhist faiths signed an agreement vowing to teach pupils about other religions as well as their own in an effort to broaden understanding.

"A good education is one of the best ways of building understanding of the many issues that unite us, as opposed to the few that divide," Alan Johnson said in a statement.

"We want to preserve the special contribution faith schools make to raising educational standards and offering choice."

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