The British government has scrapped plans to compel religious schools to enroll 25 percent of their student bodies from pupils of other religious backgrounds.

Alan Johnson, secretary of state for education, stepped back from the proposed law after lobbying by Catholic, Jewish, and Sikh leaders. Vincent Nichols, the Catholic archbishop of Birmingham and chairman of the Catholic Education Service, urged all 2,000 Catholic head teachers to lobby their members of Parliament (MPS). The government became alarmed at the possible effect on its MPS who depend on the Catholic vote.

But the key to the turnaround was the Church of England, which provides around a third of the state system's schools. The church has said it will set aside a quarter of the places at its new schools for people outside the church. The government seemed satisfied with this voluntary agreement.

Some suspected that the government pushed the 25 percent rule in order to curb schools of minority faiths from furthering the trend toward ghetto communities. Some 120 Muslim schools are likely to apply to be included in the state system. Currently, the vast majority of England's 7,000 faith schools are Christian, with 36 Jewish and 8 Muslim.

Many evangelicals have been bemused by the debate. "When you consider any of the flash points in recent years, you would certainly not attribute them to faith schools, church or otherwise," said Rod Thomas, spokesman for Reform, which represents many conservative evangelicals in the Church of England. "In many ways 'quotas' was a solution looking for a problem."

All state schools teach the national curriculum, which includes the requirement to teach basic tenets of all major religions. Non-church schools water down or ignore the obligation to hold a daily act of worship that is wholly or largely Christian. Church schools on the whole achieve better exam results than ordinary state schools.

"I believe there is a fundamental confusion in the government and among the general public over what constitutes a faith school," said Pete Broadbent, Anglican bishop of Willesden, north London. He noted that the Church of England system predates universal state education, which started in 1944. "It has always run schools for the benefit of all faiths and none."

Related Elsewhere:

The BBC's coverage of the quota debate includes:

Why the U-turn on faith schools? | "You turn if you want to, the lady is not for turning."
Peers reject faith school quotas | Peers have voted down a plan to make newly established faith schools in England take up to a quarter of pupils from other religions
Archbishop defends faith schools | The Archbishop of Canterbury has insisted faith schools are not harmful to the cohesion of society
Ministers face faith school fight | The government is facing a battle in the House of Lords after it abandoned plans to make new faith schools take more children from other religions.
Faith schools quota plan scrapped | Plans to force new faith schools in England to select more pupils from other religions are to be scrapped

Faith schools have been in British news recently for having 60% of top standardized test scores, and for a new survey that shows most head teachers are opposed to any expansion of faith schools.

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