I spotted resolution 15 only the week before conference, and rather misunderstood the on-line version of the agenda as putting it low down in the running order for one of the sessions. Therefore, I read it as not being likely to be taken. On Monday morning, I read the agenda properly - and realised it was almost certain to be debated during the session on Monday afternoon. The speech below was therefore put together in the conference hall just before the Monday morning session, and tidied up during a coffee break.
In the end, there was a procedural motion to "move to next business" after my speech, so no vote took place on the resolution as such.
The motion's proposer had received critical calls from members about ATL's policy on faith schools, which claimed things for ATL's policy that were not reflected in the debate at the Conference in 2007. The confusion resulting was her basis for asking for a review. The speaker before me in the debate, who had been the convener of the task group that drafted ATL's policy statement, said that the pressure on ATL over their policy statement had come about as a result of a campaign by the Catholic Education Service (see the downloads from this page), and that correspondents had been satisfied with the replies received from ATL explaining the policy properly. I prefaced my speech by pointing out to her that I was an ATL member who was alienated by ATL policy on faith schools. You will also see that I still feel able to draw attention to contact between the National Secular Society or British Humanist Association and ATL. The General Secretary's denial of contact is confined to paid officers, and leaves open the possibility of contact with ATL members leading on the issue. Since ATL's policy statement is pretty much the policy of such secularist organisations, I am still of the view that there was such contact.
Resolution 15: Faith Schools
THAT Conference calls upon the Executive Committee to establish a review into the current ATL policy on faith schools and report back to Conference no later than Conference 2011.
Proposer: Niamh Sweeney, Cambridge Regional College, Cambridgeshire
Seconder: Richard G Martin, Unattached member, Leeds
Written text of speech by Joseph Sowerby, Barking and Dagenham Branch, in support of the resolution.
I would like to suggest three elements that should form a part of a review.
1. A consideration of the idea of “ownership” in the educational enterprise, and the relationship between state funding and the idea of “ownership”, an idea of “ownership” that is wider than that of just the ownership of the physical assets. What is the correct relationship between government, the elements of civil society (which includes religious bodies) and parents, children, families in a state funded education system? I suspect that in the conversation about faith schools, and indeed about schools in general, we can too readily, and inadvertently, consider “state funding” to be equivalent to “state ownership” of the whole educational enterprise, an ownership in which others do have a rightful share.
2. I think we need to have a reflection on religions that respects their religious character, treats them as religious, and doesn’t simply treat them according to a secularist idea of what religion is. This asks us to re-examine our concepts of equality and diversity in this context, recognising that religion, precisely as religious, is a diversity to be respected; and not respecting that diversity constitutes a discrimination.
3. The member-led nature of our policy making on this subject needs to be transparent. The Specialist Task Group process that drafted our present policy, for example, - and I use a diplomatic choice of words here - lacked transparency (in the way its members were chosen). At the time our policy was produced - I can’t recall whether it was the website of the National Secular Society or that of the British Humanist Association - but the website of one of those organisations claimed to have been in touch with ATL during the time that our position paper was being drafted. In a member led policy making process, the influence of such external contacts needs to be transparent and visible to the membership, it needs to be a “declared interest”.