So this tale rather astonished me. The Shropshire Star reports …
Non-church pupil told he can’t travel on Telford school bus
A family say they are unable to get their son on a council-run school bus because he does not go to church.
Chad Millington, whose 12-year-old son is a pupil at Holy Trinity Academy in Priorslee, Telford, say they have been told they cannot use a bus that stops a short distance from his home because it is only for Catholic, Church of England and other church pupils.
A change in circumstance means that the boy, who already studies in Year 7 at the school, now has to live permanently with his mother in Wellington.
The family have tried to arrange for school transport for him, but were told he cannot use the bus to travel to the multi-faith academy as it is only for church-going pupils.
OK, so lets point out a few things that illustrate just how truly absurd this case is.
Is the school private and paid for by a religious group?
Nope, the local council funded it, and spent £200 million building it, but it was opened in 2015 as a joint venture between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury and the Anglican Diocese of Lichfield, who did not pay for it to be built.
Ah, OK, so is the bus run by a religious group?
Nope, the local council also pays for and runs that.
It is the fault of the parents for choosing a religious school instead of a state one?
Wrong, it is the only choice available in the area, and remember not only was it built using state funds, the running costs are also 90% funded by the state. It is that other 10% that enables religious discrimination to kick in.
So what has the council got to say about this when asked?
Emily Taylor, a spokeswoman for Telford & Wrekin Council, said that special arrangements were made to Catholic families and that other transport assistance was only offered to children from low-income families, within a certain radius of the school.
She said: “Transport assistance is offered to pupils who are baptised Catholics and pupils whose families are faithful and regular worshippers in a Church of England Parish Church or other Christian affiliated churches if they live over the three-mile distance criteria for secondary aged pupils.
In other words, as long as you believe that religious myths are facts then you get transport to school, but if you don’t then tough.
Why oh why is the local council seriously pandering to such lunacy?
Well basically because that is what existing laws dictate. The UK has equalities legislation, but the legislation that dictates the provision of school transport by local authorities is exempted from this.
This is not the first time this has happened, nor it is a unique example. The British Humanist Association has previously responded to the Department of Education’s consultation on the provision of school transport and pointed out this issue back in 2014. They responded to Q2 and the following is a summary of their response …
We have responded to question 2 of the consultation in order to say that:
- We think the guidance needs to be careful to be more inclusive of non-religious beliefs/philosophical convictions and the absence of religion or a religion or belief, putting these situations on an equal footing to religious situations
- We do not agree with the Secretary of State’s recommendation that discretionary transport on the grounds of religion or belief continues. Such transport overwhelmingly helps parents send their children to ‘faith’ schools and this is typically motivated by reasons other than religion. Providing one group of parents extra choice over others is unfair, and the nature of the discretionary spending likely causes religious and ethnic segregation and causes ‘faith’ schools to be more socio-economically selective than they otherwise would be.
- Finally, we regret the removal of definitions of what is meant by ‘belief’/’philosophical conviction’. As things stand, local authorities all too frequently fail to treat non-religious beliefs equally to religious beliefs in their transport provision. This is likely going to be exacerbated if such terms are undefined. The current guidance also provides helpful examples on this point which are set to be removed.
Why is religious discrimination enshrined in law within the UK?
Well let me put it this way … the UK’s formal head of state is also head of her very own church, and the House of Lords has 26 Bishops sitting in it and influencing lawmaking, not because they were elected, but because they have an imaginary friend that they think is real. We might criticise nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia for permitting religious clerics to meddle in the running of the country, but here in the UK we do exactly the same.
As for why the government are happy for such discrimination to continue asis, the bottom line there is money. It would cost too much in these cash strapped times to even the playing field and provision transport independently of any religious beliefs for all schools, and it would cost them too many votes to eliminate the currently existing special arrangements for the exclusively religious.
The net effect is that this will pander to the dishonest. Parents prepared to pretend to find religion get free school transport for their kids, while the more honest don’t. You do have to wonder just how they measure the religious convictions …
- Does it have to be just the parents, or would a believing child be sufficient?
- Would simply turning up at a church once be sufficient, or do they need to check it at least once per month, and if so then how do the council measure that?
The precise wording the council used was “faithful and regular“, so how exactly do they work it all out and measure such degrees of religiousness of those seeking school transport?
Meanwhile this new academy, (which is an Academy in name only and is not actually an “Academy”) is trying to establish good community relationships. It only leads you to wonder what things would be like if it was not.