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UK: Teachers' warning over extremists

Government plans for school reform could open the door to religious extremists, teachers are warning.

Giving evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee, heads of EI affiliates the NUT, ATL and NASUWT all voiced their opposition to the creation of trust schools, believing that the changes would allow religious fundamentalists to take over state schools. Under government proposals, due to be put forward in a bill early in the new year, schools would be able to become self-governing trusts, with more freedom from local authorities and power over which pupils they admit. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), told MPs the plans could open the door to extremists. "Say you have got an Exclusive Brethren* set of parents who apply to set up a school. That sect says that their children don't need to learn with other pupils. Where are the checks and balances? "What would the setting up of an extreme faith school within a trust do to the curriculum?" Mick Brookes, general secretary of EI affiliate the National Association of Head Teachers, warned that the White Paper plans could lead to more segregation and sectarianism. Speaking after the hearing, he said the only organisations with a real incentive to set up trust schools would be faith groups. "If there are parents within faith communities who feel that their local school does not cater for their particular faith, then this White Paper certainly does open the door to set up faith schools," he said. "If we promote segregation we may well go into increased sectarianism." NUT general secretary Steve Sinnott said the White Paper would increase social inequalities, with children from the poorest backgrounds missing out on the best schools. General secretary of the NASUWT Chris Keates said: "Children will fall through the net because of school admissions policies." In addition to teacher unions, the government is facing a challenge over the reforms from some of its own backbenchers - up to 30 MPs are reportedly ready to propose changes to the plans in parliament this week. * The Exclusive Brethren are an evangelical Protestant Christian church whose members keep themselves separate from other people (including other Christians), because they believe the world is a place of wickedness.