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Reasons for Opposing Faith-based Schools

Publicly funded schools should not exercise undue influence over young children to adopt religious beliefs before they are mature enough to make up their own minds.

Faith-based schools introduce selection by the back door, reinforcing social divisions.

Faith-based schools tend to increase ethnic divisions.

Adding to the number of Church of England schools (as proposed) will exacerbate the discrimination against minority religions, such as Islam and Sikhism.

Providing good moral education in a school with a "good ethos" can and should be done in all schools and has little or nothing to do with the school's religious affiliation.

 


THE THREAT FROM RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISTS

One key reason for opposing the system of faith schools is that it opens the way for
religious fundamentalists such as the Creationists
who believe that the earth was literally created in six days a few thousand years ago.

In a few schools they are already subverting the science curriculum
by teaching that evolution, although required for the national curriculum, is suspect and
that there are "alternative (always better) Biblical explanation of the same data"
(to quote the Head of Science at one such school).

It is easy for religious zealots to get the UK Government to fund their schools
and there is almost no legal or administrative barrier (especially given the Human Rights Act) that can be put in their way so long as the mainstream churches are allowed the same privilege.

There are ominous signs of the massively wealthy and well organised
creationist movement in the USA planning to move into the UK school system.

For much more on this serious danger, click here

 

Publicly funded schools should not exercise undue influence over young children to adopt religious beliefs before they are mature enough to make up their own minds.

Religion is a very personal matter. It is also a matter of deep dispute: many people do not believe there is a god, while others adopt one of many competing theistic religions, while others again adopt "life-stances" or "world views" that are religious but without gods (like classical Buddhism, or Scientology).

It is not for the Government, or Parliament, or some local education authority body, to decide what children should be taught to believe. This is an improper role for state schools, funded by the public, in a community that values freedom of belief and religion - see more on this.  Parents who wish may bring their children up in their own religious tradition, but this is their responsibility at home, in cooperation if they wish with their church, mosque or temple.

The schools provided by everyone's taxes should respect the autonomy of their pupils, providing them with information and education, not with disputed religious doctrine.

The state should support schools which offer objective, fair and balanced multi-faith belief education (which should include non-religious, as well as religious, world views), rather than the one-faith religious instruction and worship practised in some religious schools.

This, broadly, is the view suppported by the Humanist Philosophers' Group in their booklet Religious Schools: the case against (British Humanist Association, 2001) - read extract.

 

Faith-based schools introduce selection by the back door, reinforcing social divisions.

Religious schools are allowed to operate admissions policies that favour children of the appropriate faith.  Often, however, the good reputation of church schools for acedemic results in competition among parents to get their children admitted. At the extreme, parents move house to get into the right catchment area and start attending church and supporting parish functions for no other reason than improve the chance of getting their child admitted.

The parents who go to such lengths are unusually committed to their children's education - the sort any school would long to have.  This results in church schools on average having far fewer than their "quota" of children from socially deprived backgrounds.

The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals is an established measure of social deprivation.  Church of England primary schools have only 60% and secondary schools 70% of their "fair share" of children from socially deprived backgrounds, who are usually more difficult pupils to educate. Roman Catholic schools get closer to the average (but still have fewer pupils from deprived backgrounds than non-faith schools), but other religious primary schools have only 50% and secondary schools barely 40% of their "fair share" of children from socially deprived backgrounds.

Another study looked at specialist schools and found that religious schools that were also specialist schools were heavily socially biased in their intake.  And a study of Welsh church comprehensive schools showed that their biased intake completely accounts for their superior academic performance and lower record of absenteeism. [See details of these and other studies]

This does not mean, of course, that the schools lose their attraction to ambitious middle-class parents. But it does mean that the schools achieve no more with their children than any school would do.

It therefore casts doubt on claims of inherent superiority in church schools that can be reproduced indefinitely if their numbers are increased. In fact, though on average the academic performance of church schools is slightly superior to others, individually their standards range from very good to appalling.

 

Faith-based schools tend to increase community and ethnic divisions.

Many schools in inner cities have been highly successful in combatting racial and religious prejudice and in fostering not just tolerance but mutual understanding and appreciation between the many ethnic and religious groups among their pupils. But this is far more difficult if the children in a school are all or almost all from the same background.

Sometimes this is inevitable: for example, many areas are almost exclusively white and a few are sadly almost exclusively from one of the "immigrant" communities - often now predominantly British born and bred, of course.

But religious schools tend to draw their pupils almost entirely from one ethnic community. Very few white or West Indian pupils will be sent to an Islamic, Sikh or Hindu school; very few Asian or white pupils to a Seventh Day Adventist school.

This religious-racial segregation was one of the features highlighted by Sir Herman (now Lord) Ouseley in his report on race relations in Bradford, written before but published after the serious riots in the summer of 2001. He said:

There are signs that communities are fragmenting along racial, cultural and faith lines. Segregation in schools is one indicator of this trend…

and commented on the "inspiring . . . desire among young people for . . . more social and cultural interaction . . . [click here for more quotations]

It is not just ethnic divisions that religious schools reinforce. Notoriously in Northern Ireland divisions between the Catholic and Protestant communities are cemented at school - for a personal testimony, click here. Similar divisions between Catholics and Protestants have been endemic in Liverpool and Glasgow both in schools and in the wider community.

The Liberal Democrat MP Menzies Campbell (Fife North East) said recently "I was born and brought up in the west of Scotland where education is divided on religious lines and I frankly do not think that, if you want to have the kind of community spirit that we're talking about, religious education of that kind assists. . ." [click here for fuller quotation]

In the same programme a young woman from Southampton in the audience said: " I completely agree that we shouldn't have single faith schools. I went to a Roman Catholic school and I had a Church of England school next to mine and we had so many fights, there was so much rivalry there. You go to college . . . and all the faiths are together and it's a lot better and everyone gets on. You do not need single faith schools for everyone to get on."

 

Adding to the number of Church of England schools (as proposed) will exacerbate the discrimination against minority religions, such as Islam and Sikhism.

The Church of England wants to increase the number of its schools. In particular, it plans to raise the number of secondary schools it runs by 100 - which can only be done in most cases by taking over community schools. The Government supports this policy.

But already the Church of England has a disproportionate number of schools for its support in the population. It has 1 in 4 primary schools and over 1 in 20 secondary schools. Their average church attendance in England is only about 1 in 50 of all adults. The Roman Catholic Church, with about 1 in 40 adults attending its churches, is similarly favoured: it has about 1 in 10 primary and 1 in 10 secondary schools.

But other Christian denominations, with 1 in 33 adults attending their churches, have very few schools by comparison (about 1 in 240 primaries and 1 in 130 secondaries), while the non-Christian religions have only a handful of schools - the Jews have 25 primaries and 5 secondaries but the Sikhs and Muslims have only half a dozen schools between them, while the active membership of all non-Christian religions is estimated in Religious Trends 2000/2001 at about double the average Anglican church attendance.

This discrimination is the understandable result of the historical development of schooling in England, but it is not defensible under the Human Rights Act, which forbids discrimination by the public authorities in the delivery of services on grounds of religion or belief.

This is part of the reason why the Government says it favours an expansion of faith-based schools, but it is a path towards greater division and less understanding in society.

 

Providing good moral education in a school with a "good ethos" can and should be done in all schools and has little or nothing to do with the school's religious affiliation.

Ofsted reports on community (i.e., non-faith) schools show time and again that they provide excellent social, moral and spiritual education without being commmitted to any particular religion or to any religious faith at all. To suggest otherwise - or to suggest that religious schools have an outstanding record in this regard - is unsustainable once the facts are examined. For more, see "Answers to Arguments. . ."

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Updated 22 May 2003