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Answers to Arguments for Faith-based Schools

"Church schools get good results."

"Church schools serve the whole community - they don't discriminate or proselytise."

"Religious schools increase parental choice."

"Religious schools have a better ethos than community schools."

"Religious minorities need their own schools in order to preserve their culture and beliefs."

"Parents have a right to educate their children in the faith of their choice."

 


"Church schools get good results."

Any selective school can achieve better than average results, and Church schools are selective. They take less than their share of deprived children and more than their share of the children of ambitious and choosy parents. This covert selection goes a long way towards explaining their apparent academic success. "Selection, even on religious grounds, is likely to attract well-behaved children from stable backgrounds," said a spokesperson for Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) in the Times Educational Supplement. 16/2/01.

The table below shows that this social selection operates in all types of religious school.

Percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals in maintained schools, January 2000
(from Hansard, column 608W, 12 July 2001)
Religious character Primary Secondary
Church of England 12.2 11.8
Roman Catholic 17.2 16.5
Other religious schools* 10.2 7.1
Non-religious schools 20.2 16.8

* includes Methodist, schools of mixed denomination or other Christian belief, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and other religions.

Welsh figures reveal a similar pattern. The Statistical Directorate of the National Assembly for Wales, in their Statistical Brief 21/2001 Church School Secondary Education in Wales, Examination and Attendance Data. 2000, SDB21/2001, concluded:

"Analysis of levels of examination performance in comparison with levels of free school meal entitlement shows that once the different levels of free school meal entitlement are taken into account, the differences in GCSE/GNVQ examination performance and absenteeism [between Church and other schools] were not statistically significant."

In other words, the bias in intake in Welsh church comprehensive schools completely accounts for their superior academic performance and lower record of absenteeism.

Another study looked at specialist schools and found that religious schools that were also specialist schools were heavily socially biased in their intake:

29% of secondary schools in England became more 'privileged' in their intake between 1994/95 to 1999/00. In this instance, more 'privileged' means that these schools had less than their local 'fair share' of children from families in poverty, as measured by their entitlement to free school meals, and that this proportion, over time, declined further. It is, in essence, these 29% that are driving the move towards greater overall segregation in the system since 1997 . . . It is . . . worse among specialist schools (37.2%), particularly those for languages (42.9%), and foundation (42.6%), and voluntary-aided CE (56.8%) specialist schools. The latter is particularly interesting showing that, however neutral the school admissions policies are except with respect to religion, religious schools are attracting or 'selecting' an increasingly privileged intake and this has implications for the current (at time of writing) proposal to expand this sector as well.

(Specialist schools in England: track record and future prospect by Stephen Gorard and Chris Taylor, Cardiff University School of Social Sciences, June 2001)

Researchers at the National Foundation for Education Research told MPs:

"On the basis of our research, looking exclusively at achievement, there is not any evidence at all to suggest really that increasing the number of faith schools will improve the level of achievementů.Our finding is that basically, when you apply value-added analysis, that advantage all but disappears, which suggests that the difference is based on intake. Interestingly, you can hypothesise that if they do have better ethos and better behaviour and so on that would lead to better achievement, but we did not find any evidence that that is so."

- for more details see extracts from the MPs' report.

Yet another study cast severe doubt on the standards of church schools. For details, click here.

If we want socially or academically selective education (with the sink schools that will inevitably accompany it), we should have an open and honest debate about it, not bring it in by stealth and in a way that benefits only religious minorities.

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"Church schools serve the whole community - they don't discriminate or proselytise."

This may have been true of some Church schools up to now. But the Archbishops' Council's report The Way ahead: Church of England schools in the new millennium (2001), "confirmed the crucial importance of the Church schools to the whole mission of the Church to children and young people, and indeed to the long-term well-being of the Church of England". It recommended reserving places for Christians and that Church schools should become more "distinctively Christian", with a mission to "Nourish those of the faith; Encourage those of other faiths; Challenge those who have no faith".

When only 7.5% adults go to church on an average Sunday (Religious Trends, 2000-2001), such overtly Christian schools cannot serve the whole community. Neither do they respect the autonomy of children in the vital matter of choosing their own religious and value commitments. Religious Education and worship in Church and other religious schools are not generally as broad-based and multi-faith as in community schools.

22% of all schools are Church of England and 10% Roman Catholic. If even more are created, it will worsen discrimination against other religions and provoke more demands for publicly funded schools for other religious groups. Religious schools discriminate against everyone not of that faith - in their admissions and employment policies, their curricula, and their assumptions about their religion. Some faith-based schools will not even try to serve the whole community, and will divide children not just by religion but also ethnically - especially if Muslims, Sikhs, Seventh Day Adventists and other minority religions and denominations get more than the tiny handful of schools they have now. Northern Ireland and Bradford are examples of what happens to communities where children are educated separately and grow up knowing little of each other.

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"Religious schools increase parental choice."

Choice is rarely feasible in small communities, and even in larger ones choice for one group is usually at the expense of another. Religious schools choose their pupils, rather than the other way round, and a proliferation of religious schools will decrease choice for the majority of parents, unless they are prepared to join, or pretend to join, a religion. The National Union of Teachers, in its response to the Government green paper Schools - Building on Success (June 2001), illustrated the effects on parental choice of the expansion of Church schools, combined with other Government initiatives:

"One city, in the North West, has: 1 Catholic secondary school; 2 Church of England secondary schools; 1 City Technology College; and 1 Community School. The two Church of England schools are already specialist schools, focusing, in turn, on modern foreign languages and sport. The Community Secondary School itself has just applied to become a specialist school in arts. In all secondary schools in that town, there could be, in one form or another, selection by aptitude or faith in varying degrees."

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"Religious schools have a better ethos than community schools."

Religious schools tend to have a religious ethos, and their teachers do often have an enviable confidence in their moral values and invaluable moral support from parents. But teachers in community schools frequently have these too, and the values and successes of community schools are too often underestimated. Moral education is too important to be left solely to religious schools, and schools' ethos and values can be based on shared human values rather than on religions. There is no "magic ingredient" in religious schools, as the head of a C of E school revealed in The Independent on 15/6/01: "The fact that we select those who are supported by parents is the key defining factor in the kind of pupils we send out into the world."

Those church schools that operate inclusive admissions policies in difficult neighbourhoods often share the same social problems and poor discipline as other schools. For example, the school outside which headmaster Philip Lawrence was stabbed intervening in a pupil gang fight was a Roman Catholic one. Church schools do sometimes get poor Ofsted reports and are put on "special measures" as The Way ahead: Church of England schools in the new millennium admits. For some examples, click here.

One has to doubt the commitment to truth and integrity of schools that encourage parents to take up religious observances simply in order to get their children into a religious school. The head teacher of an Oldham C of E school was reported in the Times Educational Supplement of 22/6/01 , as " happy to admit that many 'Church of England' parents actually attend services with the express purpose of winning a place at his school." We do not think this is a good example to children.

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"Religious minorities need their own schools in order to preserve their culture and beliefs."

It is understandable that, with 6926 publicly-funded Christian schools, members of other faiths will increasingly demand public funds for their schools, but community needs should not be allowed to override the needs of children for an education that opens windows onto a wider world. Culture and beliefs can be transmitted at home.

There is often a gulf between the religious segregation that older generations and "community leaders" want, and what young people in those groups want, as Lord Ouseley's report on Bradford (Community Pride not Prejudice, Bradford Vision, 2001) notes:

"What was most inspiring was the great desire among young people for better education, more social and cultural interaction ... Some young people have pleaded desperately for this to overcome the negativity that they feel is blighting their lives and leaves them ignorant of other cultures and lifestyles..."

Young people realise that being taught in religious ghettos is not a good preparation for life in a multi-cultural society. The Ouseley report also observes "signs that communities are fragmenting along racial, cultural and faith lines. Segregation in schools is one indicator of this trend...There is "virtual apartheid" in many secondary schools in the District."

Other well-informed commentators criticise the multi-culturalist orthodoxy. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, social researcher, journalist and Muslim, writes in After Multiculturalism (The Foreign Policy Centre, May 2000):

"traditional multiculturalists believe that equity means that funding Church of England, Roman Catholic and Jewish schools must also mean state funding for Muslim and Hindu schools where there is sufficient demand, as there often clearly is. Afler Multiculturalism, we need to take a different approach - to fairly represent the society we live in without breaking it up further into minority groups aided and abetted by the State. The Church of England would be disestablished; the blasphemy laws should be scrapped, not extended, and there should not be state-funding for state schools of any religion."

Satisfying the demands of some members of minority groups should not take precedence over working towards a cohesive and tolerant society.

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"Parents have a right to educate their children in the faith of their choice."

We respect the rights to freedom of belief and to education, and understand the desire of parents to bring up their children with the family's beliefs. However, it is not the job of publicly-funded schools to instil a religious faith in children, and states are not obliged to provide schools catering for every shade of belief or philosophy:

"...it is one thing for parents in private to bring up their children to believe what they, the parents, think true and important. It is quite another for parents to expect that the state should undertake the role of transmitting such a belief. The state has its own interest in ensuring that children grow up to be responsible and capable citizens. It must design a system of education that serves that end, as well as promoting the interests of children." (Humanist Philosophers' Group Religious Schools: the case against, BHA, 2001)

Groups lobbying for religious schools sometimes cite the First Protocol, Article 2 of the Human Rights Act 1998, Part 2: "No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and teaching, the state shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions."

But Amnesty International UK, in Amnesty (September-October 2000), stated: "This article guarantees people the right of access to existing educational institutions; it does not require the government to establish or fund a particular type of education. The requirement to respect parents' convictions is intended to prevent indoctrination by the state. However, schools can teach about religion and philosophy if they do so in an objective, critical, and pluralistic manner."

The curriculum in some private religious schools would certainly appear to contravene another human right: "The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds..." (Article 13, Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN, 1989)

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Updated 6 June 2003