Aims of ACCORD
(http://www.accordcoalition.org.uk - live from 1 September 2008)
In a pluralist, multi-cultural society, the state should promote tolerance and recognition of different values and beliefs. Given the dangers of segregation and the importance of community cohesion we need schools that welcome all and are committed to non-discrimination. Schools should promote a culture of questioning, of knowledge, of respect and of exploration of values, where students develop their own identities and sense of place in the world. We believe all state-funded schools should:
1. Operate admissions policies that take no account of pupils’ – or their parents’ – religion or beliefs.
2. Operate recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief.
3. Follow an objective, fair and balanced syllabus for education about religious and non-religious beliefs – whether determined by their local authority or by any future national syllabus or curriculum for RE.
4. Be made accountable under a single inspection regime for RE, Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE) and Citizenship.
5. Provide their pupils with inclusive, inspiring and stimulating assemblies in place of compulsory acts of worship.
And we commit to work with each other locally and nationally to turn public support for inclusive education into a campaign for reform that the government cannot ignore.
The case for Accord
Changing the agenda on faith schools (Simon Barrow, OpenDemocracy); Diversity, standards and faith schools (Andrew Copson, BHA, on Ekklesia); Faith in schools, fairness in the system (various clergy and Christian commentators, Ekklesia); Why we should face up to faith schools positively (Liberal Conspiracy), A Christian case for Accord (Ekklesia) and Faithfully schooled for debate? (Wardman Wire) by Simon Barrow. See also the debate on The Guardian's Comment-is-Free.
Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL)
[*.PDF - Adobe Acrobat documents]
Populus polling data, 2006
Perceptions and responses to faith schools:
Ekklesia and related media/research documents
. Religious schools: open up or call time? - CEN, 4 Sept 2008
. Campaigners fight to stop schools recruiting staff based on religion - 30 August 2008
• At least 40 schools teaching creationism in UK - 3 July 2008
• Report on faith schools 'misguided' - 30 Jun 2008
• Teacher's proposals on religion in schools provoke big debate - 28 Mar 2008
• Inquiry ordered into faith schools admissions - 18 Mar 2008
• Why does government want to court the churches? - 23 November 2007
. The impact of faith and specialist schools on performance - 2 Oct 2007
• UK faith schools ‘selecting white, middle class pupils’ - 17 September 2007
. London faith secondary schools cater for affluent pupils - 14 Sept 2007
• Hatred and bigotry in the playground - 6 September 2007
• Church schools policy ‘unChristian’ - 4 October 2006
• Why education should not divide on faith - 28 April 2006
• Concerns about faith schools and extremism - 10 April 2006
• Statement on religious education opens church schools up to accusation of double standards - 22 Feb 2006
• Church of Scotland Moderator criticised for opposing State-funded faith schools 25 May 2005
Religious schools: open up or call time?, Church of England Newspaper, 4 Sept 2008.
Butler’s 1944 Education Act managed to basically acquire control of most Church of England schools and fund them. This left Roman Catholic schools with control and the need to find a small percentage of costs. Anglican schools are popular, but have little or no positive Christian influence on their pupils, perhaps even a negative influence according to research by Leslie Francis some time ago.
Roman Catholic schools are for Roman Catholic children and do have some positive effect in instilling Roman Catholic practice, at taxpayers’ expense. But the arrival of other religions in large numbers with a high birth rate has patched in a factor undreamt of by Butler, and the demand for Islamic schools has been fierce and readily given by this government. Politicians take it for granted that all religions are basically the same and that there is no need to investigate religions to see if their values cohere with western liberal views.
The Cantle Report, commissioned by the Home Office in 2001 after the riots in Oldham, Bradford and Burnley painted a picture of communities living parallel lives and with mutual suspicion building up. A kind of apartheid existed and religious schools were a big part of this, Muslim children never meeting the indigenous population. Cantle said that this polarization would continue to cement unless action was taken, including ensuring that at least 25 per cent of places in single-faith schools, be they state or private, should be given to children of alternative backgrounds.
This has not happened, rather the reverse. This week a very large Hindu state school has been opened that will absorb the Indian population’s children in Edgware, and the Hindus had till now been the Asian population best known for valuing integration and mixing with others. This will deprive other local schools of their presence. Segregation continues to deepen, children just will not meet from day to day as they used to do.
The Cantle proposal for opening up by religious schools of a percentage of places for those of other or no faith was fiercely opposed last year by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, who threatened to tell his flock to vote against the government if the reform went ahead: the government caved in. The start of September saw the Accord coalition of secularists and religious leaders pleading for an opening up of religious schools along Cantle lines in the interests of ‘community cohesion’. Ekklesia, the Christian think tank, argued with cogency that the present situation is a rapid slide into tribalism which the nation cannot afford if it values any sort of common life and unity.
Rabbi Romain upheld faith schools but also backed Accord’s ideas. The time has surely come for Butler’s settlement to be fundamentally questioned: he operated at a time of one nation with basically Christian outlook, not a tribalised society fragmented in outlook. Faith schools moreover put pressure on minority lay people to toe a clerical hard line version of their inherited tradition.
Campaigners fight to stop schools recruiting staff based on religion, by Riazat Butt, Guardian, 30 August 2008.
Leading academics, authors and scientists are launching a campaign to stop state-funded faith schools from discriminating against students and teachers on the grounds of religion.
From Monday [1 September 2008], such schools will be allowed to include faith as a selection criterion for teaching and non-teaching posts, reserving more places for people from the same religious background.
In some schools this will expand to include the headteacher while in others this would apply to non-teaching jobs, such as classroom assistants and cooks.
The new rules coincide with the launch of Accord, a coalition of Hindu, Christian and Humanist organisations, which claims that they will further restrict the employment rights of staff in state-funded faith schools and that discrimination of this kind is illegal in other state schools.
Accord's supporters also include the scientist professor Colin Blakemore, the former education secretary Tessa Blackstone, novelist Philip Pullman and the philosopher AC Grayling.
Prominent Jewish figures are angry that two rabbis from progressive movements, David Goldberg, emeritus rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John's Wood, and rabbi Jonathan Romain, of Maidenhead Synagogue, are involved with Accord, with Goldberg saying that faith schools caused people "to live parallel lives".
"I am very happy for every religion to maintain its identity while still fully participating in the civic life of the country; but I am not persuaded that faith schools are the best way to heal our fractured society."
Philanthropist Benjamin Perl, who has founded and provided funding for at least 20 of the 39 Jewish state schools in England and Wales said their involvement was disgraceful.
In 2006 faith schools were handed new powers to discriminate when Lord Adonis, the schools minister, brought forward an amendment to the education bill allowing them to favour members of the same religion when choosing support staff. Shortly afterwards the education secretary, Alan Johnson, said he would no longer try to force faith schools to accept up to a quarter of their pupils from other faiths or with no religion. The climbdown infuriated those who claim single faith schools fuel ethnic, religious and social segregation.
Earlier this year the National Union of Teachers unveiled plans to rival faith schools, proposing that all schools should become practising multi-faith institutions. Headteachers would bring in imams, rabbis and priests to instruct religious pupils as part of the curriculum in an attempt to satisfy parental demand for religion in schools.
At least 40 schools teaching creationism in UK, Tasneem Project, 3 July 2008
[T]here are at least 40 schools in Britain which teach creationism in science lessons. The figures were revealed in a report broadcast on More 4 News on Tuesday,and are the result of inquiries made to 50 Evangelical, Jewish and Muslim schools.
See also: Schools minister says creationism has no place in classroom science, Ekklesia, 28 April 2006. http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/news_syndication/article_060428create....
Report on faith schools 'misguided', Inspire Magazine, 30 Jun 2008,
The British Humanist Association (BHA) and the religious thinktank Ekklesia are amongst those who have today criticised as 'misguided' a report published today by the Centre for Policy Studies, written by Christina Odone, which seeks to portray the UK's state-funded faith schools as inclusive and 'under attack' from hostile secularists.
The Church of England and those running other faith schools have previously tried to champion them as having a good track record of inclusion. However, although attempting to defend faith schools, the findings of the latest report suggest that local authorities are approaching very small numbers of faith schools to place vulnerable Looked After Children. It also found that faith schools were turning away more than one in twenty of Looked After Children when local authorities did ask if the schools would take them.
Pointing to the recent expansion of state-funded faith schools and academies by the government, and to the powers which state-funded faith schools continue to have over admissions policies and employment, the BHA said that today's report was driven by ideology, and reflected a lack of concern for a future of inclusive education.
The report seeks to paint a picture of a Government which is persecuting faith schools in the face of public support for them. It begins by saying: "THE WITCH HUNT IS ON. A Government obsessed with phoney egalitarianism and control freakery is aligning itself with the strident secularist lobby to threaten the future of faith schools in Britain."
It ends by accusing the Secretary of State Ed Balls of "bullying and humiliations, plots and threats."
The BHA points out that the state funded faith schools which the report seeks to promote differ from state funded community schools in that they are allowed by law to discriminate in their admissions policies and are allowed by law to discriminate in their employment policies.
They also teach their own syllabus of Religious Education without the regulated syllabuses that apply to community schools.
Andrew Copson, Director of Education at the BHA said: "Our aim should be for all state funded schools to admit and include children regardless of their religious or non-religious backgrounds, so that they can learn from and with each other in a mixed environment".
Jonathan Bartley, director of the thinktank Ekklesia also raised concerns about the report. "The report suggests that the critics of faith schools are primarily die-hard secularists. Nothing could be further from the truth. The report fails to address of even mention the many concerns expressed by Christians, teaching unions, and those of disability groups who are continually pointing out that many faith schools are ill-equipped to take children with special needs, and have failed to embrace an ethos of inclusion.
"By focusing on the few hard-liners who are ideologically opposed to faith schools, it makes few, if any constructive suggestions for change, and simply serves to further polarise the debate around faith schools."
Teacher's proposals on religion in schools provoke big debate, Ekklesia, 28 Mar 2008
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has caused a heated debate with a proposal that instead of single-faith schools funded by the public, all schools should become practising multi-faith institutions.
The NUT says that existing faith schools can thereby be stripped of their powers to control their own admissions, select pupils according to their religion, and screen out teachers or heads who do not belong to a particular faith - provisions which both secular and religious critics say are unfair and unjust.
But the quid pro quo is that pupils from different faith backgrounds should be offered instruction in their own religion, provided with prayer facilities and offered a choice of religious holidays. The legally required daily act of “mainly Christian” worship would be widened to include all faiths, the NUT’s annual report suggests.
The idea, mooted in the annual report of Britain's largest teaching union has annoyed the National Secular Society and a range of educational commentators.
Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think tank Ekklesia, which has been critical of faith schools, says that bold thinking is needed but that the National Union of Teachers needs to reflect further.
Writing on OpenDemocracy, he said: "As a way of provoking a debate, this is bold but problematic. The idea is that strong religious lobbies can be brought on board with publicly funded schools being for pupils of all backgrounds (a wholly laudable aim) by making special provision for faith formation within, not in addition to, the normal patterns of school life."
He continued: "As part of the recognition of the place of schools in their local and global communities, it is also right that provision should be made for believers to have space for voluntary devotions and for after-school activities related to their beliefs - in exactly the same way as other clubs, social and non-religious cultural activities are recognised. This is something that both believers and non-believers should be able to support, in addition to properly pedagogic (informative and evaluative) education within the curriculum concerning our different life stances and beliefs.
"But what the NUT seems to be proposing, on the other hand, goes in a very different direction - towards making “confessional” (conviction based) religious teaching a core school activity. That confuses the role of the school with that of the church, mosque, temple, gurdwara or synagogue. Moreover, as currently conceived, a ‘multi-faith agenda’ will not make proper provision, as it should, for the needs of the growing number of non-religious pupils", concluded Barrow.
Inquiry ordered into faith schools admissions, Ekklesia, 18 Mar 2008 http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/6925
An inquiry has been ordered following claims that faith schools have been breaking laws aimed at making admissions fairer.
Schools Adjudicator Philip Hunter has been given until July to probe the way all schools and academies decide which pupils to take.
He has been asked by Schools Secretary Ed Balls to ensure all children have fair access to state schools.
Mr Balls ordered the probe after Department for Children, Schools and Families research revealed that a "significant number" of schools in three sample areas were breaking the statutory admissions code.
Breaches included parents being asked for money and personal and financial details.
There have also been continued concerns that faith schools have not been taking enough children who are vulnerable including those with special needs and those eligible for free school meals.
Audrey Osler, research professor at the University of Leeds and director of the centre for citizenship and human rights education, has she was is aware of schools flouting the code, particularly in cases involving disadvantaged children.
She said: "Last summer while travelling around the country doing work for the Runnymede Trust, communities expressed concerns about admissions and particularly that it was the most vulnerable children who are not being considered for faith school places."
Philip Hunter last week wrote to ministers of his concerns that admissions authorities could still be operating unlawful arrangements.
He will give ministers an interim report in July. A full report will be published in September.
The secretary of state is also publishing draft regulations in Parliament which will extend the amount of time local people have in which to object to school's written admission arrangements.
Arrangements for next year's intake have to be published by 15 April.
Mr Balls announced last week that every local authority would be required to monitor admissions arrangements and ensure that children in care and those with statements of special educational need are prioritised as the law says they should be.
He added: "We are acting now to make sure all children have fair access to schools. I know all the major faith groups are committed to stamping out practices which could penalise low-income families or increase social segregation.
"We've made it clear that it is unacceptable not to comply with basic admissions law and we will work with every local authority and faith body to make sure this happens."
In a statement the Catholic Education Service said: "The conduct of admissions arrangements, the right to object to arrangements, and the need to ensure clarity and fairness are critically important. We, therefore, welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement that he is strengthening the requirements in place to ensure that fairness and transparency are achieved in the case of admissions to all types of maintained schools. Our diocesan officers may find it helpful to have the period for objections following consultation on admissions arrangements extended from six to sixteen weeks, as the Secretary of State will now require. This will give diocesan officers more time to work with their schools where necessary.
"We look forward to the Schools’ Adjudicator and local authorities working with the CES and diocesan officers so that together, through our various roles, all parties are helped to fulfil their responsibilities with regard to admissions arrangements."
The Church of England also welcomed the statement. The Rt Revd Stephen Venner, Bishop of Dover and Acting Chair of the Church of England's Board of Education, said: "The Church issued its own fully compliant national guidance more than a year ago and will continue to work with dioceses to ensure that all its schools obey the requirements of the Code.
"Our governing bodies are composed largely of volunteers, committed to making the Admissions Code 2007 work to the benefit of pupils and school, and we are grateful for all that they do.
"The Church of England welcomes the further statement made today by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. We join him in a determination that all schools should fully implement the Admissions Code and believe that revised Regulations to allow a further period for objection to admission arrangements will reinforce existing law and guidance."
But Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the religious thinktank Ekklesia, who has just recently won a year long battle to get his own son who has special needs into a church school said: "Church schools should be leading the way in taking the most vulnerable children. Instead, there is a mounting body of evidence that such schools are taking far fewer.
"Church schools, although funded almost entirely by the taxpayer, still seek control their own admissions arrangements - which usually favour children of church-goers before anyone else in their community. This sends off a message - not of care for the most vulnerable - but of being a self-serving club that cares first and foremost about its own."
Why does government want to court the churches? by Jonathan Bartley, Root and Branch: Radical Christian Vision Network, 23 November 2007
As the direct, historic Christendom alliance of church and governance has weakened dramatically in recent years, so the relationship between church and state in a country like Britain has changed. It has moved toward accommodation to a set of mutually reinforcing interests which reflect crises in both faith communities and in the national political order.
The basic concerns of political leaders (to legitimate their rule, create a stable order and find ways of delivering their policy goals) have remained consistent, of course. But their realisation has waned in the face of seemingly uncontrollable economic and social forces. In this context a certain ‘multi-faith establishment’ has emerged. Partnerships between faith groups and government at local, regional and national level have developed. The features of this 'new deal' include strategic partnerships – promoted by government guidance, seek to involve religious groups in service provision and civic functions.
But this 'new deal' between churches, in particular, and government may in fact go much further and wider. It is best examined by first looking at some of the respective difficulties church and state face.
The problems that government faces
• Authority: At successive general elections fewer and fewer people have turned out to vote. Just one in five voters elected the Government at the 2005 general election. In a system where governments depend upon the authority of a democratic mandate to drive through political programmes, this is interpreted as a crisis in authority and a threat to the legitimacy of the system itself.
• Morality: The ‘Back to Basics’ scandals of the 1990s and allegations of sleaze have contributed to a negative view of politics and politicians. Accentuated by declining voter turnouts, governments are looking beyond democratic mandates for moral authority to govern. ‘Values’ are increasingly appealed to for political legitimacy. Actions as diverse as the invasion of Iraq, an end to tobacco advertising, tax changes and welfare reforms have been justified by political leaders as “the right thing to do”.
• Creativity: In 1962 Daniel Bell famously heralded the “end of ideology”. As the old conflict between capitalism and communism subsided from mainstream political debate, a new consensus on many issues emerged. Political parties are struggling to find ‘clear blue water’. Politics appears to be characterised by a muddling through – often described as a pragmatism or a managerialism.
• Diversity: Within the UK, diversity in religious and cultural values appears to be presenting significant difficulties. A major problem for government is how to foster or create social cohesion whilst respecting diversity. With the end of Soviet Communism, and a lifting of a heavy ideological blanket, there has been a return of traditional ethnic and religiously justified political conflicts in the many regions of the former socialist states and elsewhere. Migration has been implicated with difficulties over cohesion in the UK. Calls for more faith-based schools have led to arguments about ‘segregation’. Religious communities have met offence over publications, broadcasts and plays with calls for protection or control. ‘Multiculturalism’ and identity politics have been both advocated and questioned. Community and local faith leaders have been boosted, then challenged - but no alternative participative structures or figureheads have emerged.
• Delivery: Government is facing significant difficulties about how to deliver welfare, security and health care. An ageing population threatens a crisis in pensions and the NHS. The prison population continues to grow. So does the welfare bill. In an age where the use of the private sector and voluntary agencies is a la mode, government is looking for partners who will deliver effectively on its policy goals.
The problems that the church faces
• Liquidity: While churches are keen to pursue social programmes, they have less and less of their own money to do so. Many denominations are facing issues of viability. Churches need resources for their social projects and ageing infrastructure.
• Vulnerability: Many in the churches feel vulnerable. Some feel discriminated against, others even persecuted, but also unsure that they can do anything to change it. Old assumptions are being challenged. Churches no longer feel quite so at home in the world of post-Christendom.
• Authority: Christians feel their influence on society is waning. They don’t have the same privileges and power, though they are trying hard to cling on. They don’t have the same weight of numbers. Moral authority appears to have diminished. They see injustice and want to be a force for good, but are not sure if they can do much about it.
• Credibility: Rows about homosexuality and women bishops, and stories of child abuse are the kinds of things that tend to hit the headlines. Churches are seen by many as reactionary, behind the times, and outdated. Post-Christendom means that increasingly the churches' ideas and perspectives must stand up and be communicated in a society where the 'natural authority' of religious leaders is not only diminishing, but is actively despised.
• Identity: The church is struggling to make a distinctive contribution to society. Often lumped together with others in the catch-all category of “religion”, “the voluntary sector” or "faith-based welfare,” it has lost its unique place and status in the way things are done and managed.
Many more examples could be given. In the face of such problems, both church and state have been recognising what they can do for each other outside the traditional sphere of governance and the orbit of Establishment. It is their mutual dependence based on different but overlapping needs that explains the eagerness of both parties to engage, not conspiracy theories involving a few ministers or civil servants of 'a certain persuasion'. Secular ideology alone cannot adequately grasp what is going on because it has no theory about the demise of Christendom as a problem for the state as well as the churches, and because it does not distinguish between different religious interests.
A crucial factor in understanding why government is so keen to work closely with churches, is its belief that it can deliver in the realm of ‘social capital’. Social capital has been defined as the networks, norms, relationships, values and informal sanctions that shape the quantity and co-operative quality of a society's interactions. Social capital, it is suggested, may contribute to a range of economic and social benefits including increased GDP, more efficient functioning of labour markets, higher educational attainment, lower levels of crime, better health and more effective institutions of government.
Whereas physical capital refers to material objects and human capital refers to the properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. Social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic virtue.” It is seen as most powerful when embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social relations, such as the church provides. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.
The social capital concern has been reinforced by the 'cohesion' agenda in recent years. In the face of social and cultural fragmentation, government is keen to bring everyone on board. It is doing this through extending equalities on the one hand, but also through extending stakeholding, the promotion of 'choice', marketisation, and attempts to create an overarching identity ('Britishness' and 'shared values') in which multiple actual identities can be located. This, it believes, will create coherence for a sustainable diversity.
Benefits for the church
It is easy to see why the arrangements of the 'new deal' - including the expansion of faith schools, involvement in various kinds of service and welfare delivery, and a stake in running institutions like prisons - suit many in the churches, as well as relieving government of responsibility and building social capital. The churches benefit because cooperation with the statutory authorities is a way of:
- Delivering funding. Through its partnership with the state and agreement to deliver on the government’s policy goals and objectives, the church gets access to much needed finance.
- Delivering protection. In the face of perceived discrimination and vulnerabilities the church has the opportunity to ensure more equal treatment, ensure the continuance of old privileges, and protect itself under the law.
- Delivering Influence. Government appears to be talking in a language that is familiar to churches. It appears to be listening to what churches have to say, and responding to their concerns.
- Delivery Credibility. The receipt of government funding enhances the church’s credibility. It is able to demonstrate too that its faith “works”. It is seen as a way of witnessing to wider society that Christianity is important, at a time when it is being ridiculed in many quarters.
- Delivering Identity. The church is able to develop its identity as a welfare provider where its faith seems to have practical applications, and means something to the world around it.
The relationship between church and state is thus being renegotiated on the basis of shared interests. The church is often doing this on the basis of self-interest, rather than for example, the interests of the vulnerable or marginalized. Some will argue that the interests of the church are coterminus with those of the poor and vulnerable. But history shows that this is not always the case. A number of crucial questions must therefore be asked.
A question of trust
As with most new deals, the one between church and state hinges on trust. In a position of relative and increasing powerlessness the church, in particular, needs to be able to trust the government. And the government too needs people to be trusting. For the government “social capital can be measured using a range of indicators but the most commonly used measure is trust in other people.” Lack of trust means that political institutions don’t work. The major consequence of lack of trust has been identified as withdrawal, lack of participation and engagement – particularly in the democratic system.
A number of Christian groups, like the Evangelical Alliance, have been running campaigns and initiatives to restore trust in the political system, social institutions, government and the church. These are sometimes accompanied by initiatives to restore values like ‘respect’. They sit well with the government’s emphasis on creating new community around shared values. This emphasis by the churches can be seen as an indicator of the extent to which the church is buying into a new deal with government.
But there are a number of potential risks for the church in such an approach:
- It risks betrayal. The trust that the churches are placing in government could be misplaced. They could be let down. They could be betrayed. Pressure from those who do not have such a positive view of the role of religion could be brought to bear and influence government. Governments can change. Parties can change. Policies can change. Events as yet unseen could alter things significantly. Within Christendom governments often betrayed the church (and vice versa).
- It risks perpetuating injustice. An emphasis on trust may mean failing to point to faults and injustices in government, institutions or the church. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has pointed out, institutions need to be open and accountable if they want the trust of the wider population. But equally they need to be challenged in order to bring about change. Too great an emphasis on trust could mean there is little impetus for reform of public life, higher standards for those in public office, systems of transparency and accountability.
- It risks privatisation. The focus on trust can easily become one of changing private attitudes, and an emphasis on personal ethics. Such an approach risks being relegated to the private realm, with little to say about challenging structural injustice.
- It risks a clash with Christian convictions about the powers at work in the social order. Biblical accounts of power and authority are often highly critical, calling on Christians to resist forces which legitimate violence and division. Equally often, however, Christians misread both the signs of the times and the prophetic-biblical message of justice, and end up colluding with the status quo.
Campaigns to promote trust focus on a two-way process. The trust of government and the wider world is also being encouraged in the church. But there are also questions that need to be raised about the way that trust is being justified as a method of engagement for the church. It has been suggested that the more government and others trust the churches the more they will:
• Actively seek the churches' advice,
• Be inclined to accept and act on the churches’ recommendations
• Treat the churches as they would wish to be treated,
• Respect the churches
• Give churches the benefit of the doubt
• Forgive the churches when they make mistakes
• Protect the churches when they need it
• Warn the churches of dangers that they might avoid
• Feel comfortable in relationship with the churches
• Feel comfortable with the churches
• Work to decrease the level of bureaucracy involved in their interactions with the churches
• Fund the work of the churches
A great deal is then being invested in the churches’ trust of government and support for those in power. But a great deal also hangs on the belief that Christians and churches will trust one another, and this is risky, too, at a time when the churches appear quite divided. Over issues of funding particularly, several reports have highlighted the lack of trust between Christian groups working in the field of social action.
One of the consistent justifications for Christians promoting trust is that they can work more closely together and be more influential. Collaboration and more unity would present a clear message to statutory funders; “If all denominations, networks, streams and agencies were to approach the government with one voice and a clear strategy on issues, then it would be impossible for them to ignore what we had to say and exclude us in the future.”
But it may be that the new deal between church and government is the problem not the solution in this regard. The new deal means that faith groups, and indeed churches, are competing with one other for scarce funding from government. As successive reports show it is often the Established church that gets chosen over and above other Christian, and for that matter other faith, groups in funding matters. Either that or different religions compete with each other, and with other civic groups.
Through its community programmes, government is seeking to strengthen common projects and to fund faith groups simultaneously. But it is meeting resistance from secularists and religionists alike, who both complain that the balance is not right and that their view should prevail as the 'neutral' or 'natural' ecology of things.
On the other hand, new opportunities for the state to divide and rule the church, faith groups and civil society are opened up. As Constantine patronised the church, so disputes and rivalries broke out. In Post-Christendom churches are already divided. These divisions may grow, rather than lessen, in the face of the new deal, especially in areas such as equalities, where less progressive voices wish to hold back.
A question of distinctiveness
What is it that makes the church distinctive under the new deal? Part of the new deal between church and state is to show more effectively that faith ‘works’. Questions need to be asked as to the basis of this kind of political witness, however.
First, there has been a move toward managerialism, ideas of efficiency and pragmatism within the political system. Rather than the church witnessing to government, suggesting more human and social values and practices in line with its incarnational message, the reverse may be the case under the new deal. The church may itself move toward governing, ruling ideologies rather than pioneering a distinctive approach in the delivery of social welfare based on participation and equality.
The push of the new deal is toward delivery (measured in targets and statistics), motivational capacity and professonalism. The question that the churches needs to ask themselves, is whether they want their contribution to civic life to be based upon such things – rather than for example upon a radical stand for justice. Taking state funding runs the risk of buying into the state’s policy goals and targets rather than a vision of a different kind of social order. It runs the risk of blunting the church’s prophetic calling to question power. Politicians are quite happy to accept Christians and those of other faiths who serve their local communities diligently. They are less happy with a church that challenges the status quo.
Jonathan Bartley is co-director of Ekklesia. This article is adapted from his book Faith and Politics After Christendom (Paternoster Press, 2006).
The impact of specialist and faith schools on performance, by Sandie Schagen, Deborah Davies, Peter Rudd and Ian Schagen, National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), 2 October 2007. Ref. research 2002.
Both specialist and faith schools can be seen as part of the present government’s drive to raise standards and promote diversity. The White Paper, Schools Achieving Success, published in 2001, announced plans for new specialisms and a large increase in the number of specialist schools; it also advocated an expansion in the number of faith schools.
Specialist and faith schools tend to be popular with parents, and obtain good results in national league tables. Questions are sometimes asked as to whether this is due to their status as specialist/faith schools, or to other factors. In particular it has been suggested that their success is due to the fact that they have a ‘better’ intake than other schools.
In order to explore this issue, it was felt necessary to undertake a value-added analysis which took prior attainment and other key factors into account. This research comprised two strands: a review of published literature and some primary analysis.
UK faith schools ‘selecting white, middle class pupils’, Journeyonline, 17 September 2007
A new United Kingdom report has revealed that faith schools are turning their backs on their original remit to tackle the poor and vulnerable, and selecting proportionately more white, middle-class pupils.
Faith schools are 'cherry picking' too many children from affluent families and contributing to racial and religious segregation, according to the most extensive research of its kind, based on the government's own data, reports the Observer newspaper.
The findings drew a fierce response from the Church of England, which is seen by many, as fighting a fierce PR campaign in defence of church schools as their come under increasing criticism for discriminating in their admissions policies.
Many church schools give priority in admissions to those who attend churches attached to them - a policy which some point out is contrary to the Christian idea of prioritising those in need.
Rebecca Allen, of the Institute of Education, University of London, and Professor Anne West, Professor of Education Policy at the London School of Economics, studied the intake of faith schools across the capital using an extensive 'pupil-level' database compiled by the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
Although the majority of faith schools were established to educate the poor, the two academics said it appeared many had moved away from their original remit.
While observing there are exceptions, the researchers found religious secondary schools in London educate a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than non-religious schools and that their intakes are 'significantly more affluent' than the neighbourhoods in which they are located.
Their research showed 17 per cent of pupils at faith schools are eligible for free school meals compared with 25 per cent at non-religious schools.
Faith schools educate just under 20 per cent of lowest-ability pupils compared with 31 per cent of non-religious schools. Faith schools also educate a greater proportion of the pupils who score highest before arriving in secondary education.
"This research poses important questions for policymakers," West said. "My concern is that the [current system] is giving schools an incentive to select pupils who are easier to teach."
Although faith schools tend to be located in less affluent inner-city areas, the research found pupils from ethnic minorities that are over-represented in such locations are largely absent. Just one per cent of Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils are educated in faith schools, the researchers claim.
Last year research revealed many headteachers were deeply concerned about the effect of the schools on the education system. In one poll almost half felt there should be fewer or no faith schools.
Yesterday, ministers strongly denied the government was planning more faith schools. "The government has no policy to increase the number," said Ed Balls, secretary of state for Children, Schools and Families. "It is up to local communities to decide the kind of schools they want."
A spokesman for the Church of England said the research did not reflect the true picture across the country as a whole. "The LSE study focuses purely on London, which has a very different demographic to the rest of the country," the spokesman said. "The Church always has, and always will be, committed to serving the communities within which our schools are located."
The Church, however, stood by its admissions policies which favour church-goers before others in local communities.
London faith secondary schools cater for affluent pupils, London School of Economics and Political Science / Institute of Education, 14 Sept 2007
Overall, religious secondary schools in London educate a much smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than non-religious schools and their intakes are significantly more affluent than the neighbourhood they are located in. In the main, pupils have higher levels of prior attainment than pupils in nonreligious schools.
These were the main findings of a paper, Religious Schools in London: School Admissions, Religious Composition and Selectivity?, presented at the British Educational Research Association Conference in London on Friday 7 September.
Researchers Rebecca Allen, based at the Institute of Education, University of London, and Professor Anne West, Professor of Education Policy at LSE, looked at the two issues of school segregation and school selectivity.
They asked to what extent religious schools are segregating pupils by religiosity and associated with this, ethnicity, and, to what extent religious schools are selective in terms of the social composition of schools and (related to this) academic ability.
The researchers found that:
* Many religious secondary schools in London are not serving the most disadvantaged pupils
* Overall, religious schools educate a much smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals and their intakes are significantly more affluent than the neighbourhood they are located in
* Within the religious sector there are both Catholic and Anglican socially selective ‘élite’ secondary schools which appear to ‘select out’ low income religious families, thereby displacing them to religious schools with less affluent composition
The researchers argue that some religious schools may have undergone a ‘distortion of mission’ given that they now cater predominantly for the more affluent.
In terms of policy, they suggest that such selection could be overcome by the introduction of a mechanism administered by churches/religious bodies by which families can prove their religious commitment. Religious schools could then rely solely on the presence of a signature on a form from a religious leader to decide who should be admitted. However, the paper also argues that segregation by religion and ethnicity will continue unless there are more significant changes to admissions to schools with a religious character.
Hatred and bigotry in the playground, by Johann Hari, The Independent, 6 September 2007
This week it is 50 years – and an eternity – since the publication of the Wolfenden report, which began to rip up the laws that turned gay people into criminals.
If you had whisked John Wolfenden and his committee by time machine into the Britain of 2007, they would have dismissed the country we live in as a utopian sci-fi fantasia. Openly gay people rising to the top of every profession, including the government, army and police, a law banning discrimination against gay men and lesbians, gay people able to, in effect, get married – and even a Tory party conference applauding equality for gay people? Nice dream, boys.
But we're there. A generation of gay people born today simply can't imagine the strange world my parents were born into, where gay men were jailed just for having sex. The gay rights movement has been a shimmering model of how a persecuted minority can peacefully appeal to the decency and humanity of the majority, and win.
Yet today, there is one corner of Britain where viciousness and violence against gay people are still endemic. It is a place where 41 per cent of gay people are beaten up, and 17 per cent receive death threats. You have been there, and so have I. It's called school – and our playgrounds need a Wolfenden report of their own.
Jonathan Reynolds could have told you why. He was a 15-year-old boy from Bridgend, South Wales, who came out to some of his friends last year. He was bullied and harrassed and threatened as a "faggot" and a "poof" until he couldn't take it any more.
So one day, after he sat a GCSE exam for which he earned an A*, he lay on the train tracks near his home. He texted his sister, Sam: "Tell everyone that this is for anybody who eva said anything bad about me, see I do have feelings too. Blame the people who were horrible and injust 2 me. This is because of them, I am human just like them. None of you blame yourself, mum, dad, Sam and the rest of the family. This is not because of you." Then a train sliced his body apart.
The bullying Jonathan endured is not unusual. It is the norm in Britain's schools. The word "gay" is an all-purpose insult, the worst thing you can be called. Earlier this year, the gay equality organisation Stonewall published a detailed study of more than 1,000 gay pupils, conducted by the Schools Health Education Unit. It discovered that a majority of Britain's gay kids feel so unsafe that they skive off school to avoid abuse.
Another three-year study found that more than half consider self-harm or suicide. I get emailed by a lot of distressed gay teenagers, and one intelligent, kind, 15-year-old girl recently wrote: "After it went round the school that I had told my mate I was gay, my locker was smashed up and a dead squirrel was put in it. In every corridor people just yelled at me I was a dyke and a rug-muncher, all that.
"When I went into my form room everyone got up and moved to the back, including my best friends. The teacher didn't do anything. I told [one of my teachers] and she said I shouldn't have told anyone. I should make it less obvious. They [other pupils] won't get changed [after PE] when I'm there." She used to love school. Now she says that "I can't stand to go in any more".
Homophobic abuse is often ignored by teachers – and sometimes even encouraged. I remember when I was at school a teacher called me "a poof" in front of a class and thought it was hilarious. Stonewall found that while 97 per cent of pupils have been told that racist bullying is wrong, only 23 per cent of pupils today have ever been told by teachers that homophobic bullying is unacceptable.
But there is good news in the study too: where there is a clear policy of punishing homophobia, it works. Those pupils in schools where action was taken were 60 per cent less likely to be bullied and 70 per cent more likely to feel safe.
Teenagers might be insecure group-formers, desperate to punish difference, but there is no reason they should fixate on homosexuality as the marker of difference. Homophobia is not inevitable among kids: they are simply picking up on a nervous ambiguity among teachers, who too often will not punish prejudice for fear of a backlash from bigoted parents.
There have been excellent pilot schemes proving that it doesn't have to be like this. George Green's school, near where I live in east London, has a tough anti-homophobia policy, in an area mostly populated by recent immigrants with uber-conservative views. Headteacher Kenny Frederick has faced down homophobic parents and insisted on equality for all her students. If she can do it, any headteacher can.
So how do we ensure that there are more schools like hers? The newly appointed Children's Minister, Kevin Brennan, is a decent person and says the right things. He recently told a gay equality conference: "Just as it took several years for racial equality laws to feed into real cultural change where racist language became unacceptable, we need to achieve the same with homophobic language."
But are the Government's actions backing this up? In one significant way, they are making it worse. There is one type of school where homophobic bullying is most severe: faith schools. Pupils there are more than 10 per cent more likely to be subject to anti-gay bullying, and 23 per cent less likely to feel they can tell anyone about their sexuality.
I was emailed by a 17-year old gay boy at a Muslim school last year who was told by one of his teachers in a lesson that "sodomites should be killed". In the Stonewall study, an 18-year old boy called Matthew said: "It's a Catholic school... and we are told 'gay people will go to hell because the Bible condemns it'... It's horrid, you just want to go and cry at come of the remarks made by the teachers."
The Government is embarked on an expansion of these schools. There is a danger that after abolishing Section 28 by the front door, the growth of faith schools unwittingly reintroduces it by the back door. So a Wolfenden report for the playgrounds would introduce a law, today, requiring all schools to have a tough anti-homophobia policy that can be monitored by Ofsted, the education watchdog. If they refuse on the grounds of "religion", shut them down.
The Littlejohnian right will howl about "political correctness", just as they howled at Wolfenden's report 50 years ago. Let them. We wouldn't tolerate a school that permits the persecution of black students; why aren't gay students accorded the same respect?
How many children like Jonathan Reynolds need to die texting "I am human" before we protect them?
Church schools policy ‘unChristian’, Spero News, 4 October 2006
Responding to the latest statement from the Church of England on admissions policy for faith schools, the UK Christian think tank Ekklesia has said that the Church’s stance is “wholly inadequate” and that “using church-going as a way of assigning publicly-funded school places is wrong and un-Christian in principle.”
It says that ‘a Christian school’ would be one especially concerned for disadvantaged children in society, not for the special advantage of church members.
Other groups, including the British Humanist Association, have been equally critical from the perspective of educational and social impact.
Recently, leading Jewish Rabbi Jonathan Romain went so far as to say that single-faith schools are “a recipe for social disaster”.
The chair of the C of E Board of Education, the Rt Rev Dr Kenneth Stevenson, Bishop of Portsmouth, has written to Education Secretary Alan Johnson to say that all new Church of England schools should have at least a quarter of admission places available to non-Christians but Parliament should not expect the same commitment from other faith communities.
But Ekklesia says that the heart of this policy is still discriminatory, and that it is nonsensical to claim that it promotes social cohesion and inclusivity to allow a range of religious schools to practice a variety of admissions policies with religious observance as a criterion.
Say Ekklesia co-directors Jonathan Bartley and Simon Barrow: “This is a gesture towards social and educational inclusion in the face of an overall policy which is, at heart, designed to privilege church-goers over others in publicly funded schools. This is wholly inadequate. In our view it is un-Christian for Christians to seek to give themselves advantages of this kind. Self- interest is the opposite of what the Gospel is about.”
The think tank advocates a radical change of direction. Explains Mr Bartley: “A truly 'Christian school' would be one that seeks to be open to all – and which pays particular attention to the needs of marginalized and poorer communities. Using church- going as a way of assigning state school places is wrong in principle.”
Opinion polls over the last six years have shown a clear and consistent majority opposed to faith schools, and for many – religious and non-religious alike – it will be difficult not to perceive the Church of England’s announcement as mainly an attempt to stem such criticism.
Ekklesia also points out that remarkably, the Board of Education does not know how many of its schools actually operate discriminatory admissions policies.
Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association is equally sceptical. He declared yesterday: “What has been announced today is not an end to selection by religion - it is the reinforcement of selection by religion. Young people will still be subject to a religious test to gain access to faith schools, only now it will be selection of two different kinds.”
He continued: “Supporters of inclusive community schools do no find fault with faith schools simply because of their admissions policies. They are concerned about faith schools which can discriminate in their employment polices, which don't have to follow the same broad and balanced Religious Education syllabuses as community schools - the threat of segregation is only one part of the case against faith schools and their expansion.”
In any case, the BHA points out that these new arrangements will only apply to new Church schools: “The vast majority of faith schools, even of Church of England schools, will not be affected,” concluded Mr Copson, BHA’s education and policy officer.
Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society added: “The Bishop of Portsmouth is proud to say that ‘most’ Church of England schools are ‘inclusive’, which could mean ‘non-discriminatory’, but this is not the case. There is no question of giving a commitment that pupils will be admitted into publicly-funded C of E schools on an equal basis regardless of parents’ beliefs or church attendance. So the child living next door to a church school may well have to travel many miles to an alternative school. At the same time those living much further away but committing themselves to church going – willingly or not – will often have preference.”
Ekklesia and other faith-based critics of the current system say that selection on the basis of religious affiliation ought to be removed completely in the public school sector.
Why education should not divide on faith, by Andrew Copson, Ekklesia, 28 April 2006
Faith-based schools have been widely criticised by people from both religious and non-religious backgrounds. Sometimes this is seen as an attack on particular life stances, which is not so. I want to address the problems posed by faith schools – but I want to start by giving a positive picture of the sort of schools that the British Humanist Association, for which I work, would like to see in the state sector.
We want every state school to be open to children of every background, no matter what their parents’ or their own beliefs – political, religious, or philosophical. We want children to mix in schools, parents to mix at the school gate, and the classroom to be as diverse a place as the local area from which it draws its pupils.
We want this because we believe that only through proximity, and communal life can mutual understanding grow, and because we view mutual understanding as the key to the future happiness of society.
We want the entitlement of every child to be an education that fits them for life in the society they will go out into.
We want them to have thorough sex and relationships education, because such an education reduces the risk of unwanted pregnancy and abortion, of sexually transmitted infections, and it helps children to grow into healthy, stable and complete adults.
In terms of education in and about beliefs and values, we want children to develop understanding of a broad range of views, religious and secular, and to have the chance to discuss and debate their own reactions to what these views imply. They should be able to make their own informed choices.
We think that jobs in schools should be open to all teachers who are qualified to do them, whatever their private beliefs may be.
This is what we want, and what we would want the law to ensure. But it doesn’t.
There are state funded schools that can discriminate in their admissions, discriminate in their employment policies. Schools that don’t have to teach about a broad range of beliefs and values but can teach that only a certain worldview is the true one, without ever exposing their pupils to alternative perspectives. Schools that don’t have to teach about contraception, or fulfilling and meaningful human relationships outside of heterosexual marriage.
I think education law should intervene in these schools, and that by doing so, the lives of our children and their education – not just in terms of grades and university places – will be improved; our future society will be in a more solid state to face the increased challenges of our increasingly diverse population.
That’s the school system I think it is appropriate for the state to fund. I’d like now to look at some of the defences of faith schools, and offer some constructive criticisms of them.
Assertion 1 – “Faith schools are successful because they are faith schools.”
Firstly, not all faith schools are particularly successful. Some of them struggle, can’t afford to be choosy about admissions, and end up at the bottom of league tables, or even in special measures. When schools struggle, we don’t blame their religious foundation and ethos – we look for and find other reasons. And it should be the same when they succeed.
I’m sure most people will admit that religious faith has little to do with academic success. So how have Church schools, in particular, become the favourite schools of ambitious parents?
There is good evidence that selecting on the grounds of faith skew a school’s social and ablility profile, boosting its academic results and its position in league tables. This does make some Church schools popular and over-subscribed, and so they become even more selective – and get even better results.
Church and some other faith-based schools take fewer than average numbers of children from deprived backgrounds, and fewer than average numbers of children with special educational needs. And more inclusive schools suffer when their neighbours adopt their own admissions policies.
We should compare like for like when we look at league tables and test results. Even schools next door to each other can have very different catchment areas and intakes. The Muslim girl schools that improved so much last year at GCSE had class sizes of 6.
Assertion 2 - “Only faith schools can teach spiritual and moral values and religion properly.”
It’s true that some ordinary state schools could do more to respect and accommodate the beliefs of some religious pupils. This needs be tackled – but it won’t be if too many of the religious withdraw their children into separate schools.
I’ll also concede that religious schools probably conduct their own worship and instruct in their own religion more effectively than do ordinary state schools. But I do seriously question whether this transmission of faith is a suitable object for public funds, and I suggest that the broader religious education and more balanced and inclusive assemblies found in good community schools are more genuinely educational and appropriate to a diverse society.
State funded schools should be fostering the values that we all share – and recognising that moral and spiritual values have many sources, not only religious ones.
Out of the many excellent schools of “no religious character” (to use the legal term) is Plashet school in East Ham, London. It offers girls from a very wide range of backgrounds an “outstanding ethos” which “values and respects everyone,” according to Ofsted. It gets excellent Ofsted reports for social, moral, spiritual and cultural education – often held to be the particular strength of faith schools.
Assertion 3 - “We are better off with faith schools in the states system, where they have to teach the National Curriculum.”
It’s true that faith schools have to teach the National Curriculum, but the subjects that should concern us most in faith schools – subjects like Sex and Relationships Education, or Religious Education, aren’t on the National Curriculum. So, whereas community schools have to teach RE that is generally broad and balanced, allowing for critical approaches and the growth of mutual understanding, faith schools can teach whatever they like in their RE lessons – there is no curriculum they are obliged to follow.
Ibrahim Lawson, headmaster of the independent Nottingham Islamia School said on radio that “the essential purpose of the Islamia school, as with all Islamic schools, is to inculcate profound religious belief in the children.” If his school entered the state system, there would be nothing to make him modify that approach.
Assertion 4 - “Everyone wants more faith schools.”
The Church of England certainly does, and it’s hardly surprising that this has led to demands from some members of some minority groups, and some so-called “community leaders” for more of their own schools – as a simple matter of equity. This slippery slope is leading towards a seriously fragmented education system, which is not what most people want.
Survey after survey shows that parents just want good neighbourhood schools – and that anything from 64% to 96% of the general population does not want the expansion or even the continuance of faith schools. And it’s not just humanists. There are many religious people too who do not want faith schools, or their expansion.
In a democracy, policies on state education should not be based on what vocal minorities, sometimes minorities within minorities, want.
Assertion 5 - “Faith schools serve everyone.”
Actually they really serve only those who belong to faith groups that are well organised, geographically concentrated, and that want to separate themselves from, or convert, the rest of us.
They discriminate against everyone not of their particular shade of religion – in their employment and admissions policies, in their religious assumptions and ethos, and in their practices. Minority faith schools do not serve a very diverse population, and neither do all Christian schools.
And I believe that the report of the Archbishops’ Council (chaired by Lord Dearing) published in 2001, signalled a new, more evangelical approach in Church schools, and was critical of those that were not sufficiently and distinctively Christian.
It saw Church schools as being on a mission aimed at securing “the long-term well-being of the Church of England..., with a duty to “Nourish those of the faith; Encourage those of other faiths; Challenge those who have no faith...”
I have two comments on that. First, why should my beliefs in particular be challenged? And, second, is it the business of state-funded schools to do that, or to secure the future of the C of E?
If, as their supporters sometimes claim, faith schools do not discriminate, then why did faith organisations lobbied so actively for exemptions in the Equality Bill, specifically so that they can continue to discriminate as long as it is “necessary to the purpose of the establishment’ .
State education should not be based on any kind of religious discrimination.
Assertion 6 - “Faith schools increase choice.”
Schools are not like jelly beans, where my choice has no effect on yours because there are always plenty more jelly beans. As every head teacher and parent knows, choice in a finite context like education doesn’t work like choice in a sweetshop – and the most popular schools (whether faith-based or not) end up doing the choosing (again, not like jelly beans).
Assertion 7 - “Faith groups put substantial amounts of money into their schools.”
They used to, but nowadays the state funds 100% of the running costs of faith schools and 90% of capital costs. During the Building Schools for the Future programme, the state will be funding 100% of their capital, or building, costs. We all, through the state, fund these schools; in return they retain considerable control – and the right to refuse entry to our children.
Assertion 8 – “Church schools have a long and noble history of education; we should let them get on with it.”
It puzzles me that this argument is increasingly being offered as a reason to retain or expand the number of faith schools; surely we should make today’s decisions on the basis of today’s facts. Nonetheless, I don’t like to let the assertion go unchallenged. The introduction of a system of publicly funded education in 1870 was bitterly contested by the churches, who secured an interval to create new schools before the local school boards were allowed to start their own.
In 1876 Joseph Chamberlain said that the Church party were trying everywhere ‘to stunt the programme of the board school system, to prevent the erection of new schools and the provision of sufficient accommodation, to prevent the reduction of the cost of education [ie school fees] to the parents and to prevent the expenditure necessary to secure the efficiency of the schools.’
Assertion 9 – “Parents have the human right to have their children educated in a faith school.”
In a sense this is true, since an obligation does exist on the state to ‘respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.’ But the state is under no obligation to provide or fund any particular sort of school to provide what parents want – the obligation on the state is merely not to interfere.
Amnesty International have pointed out that this right ‘guarantees people the right to 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.’
And, besides, children have rights too – the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children in education have the right to ‘to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds…’ and be prepared for ‘responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups…’ This is not best accomplished in faith schools that aren’t required, like community schools, to teach a more balanced form of Religious Education.
Assertion 10 - “Faith schools are good for social cohesion.”
This unproven assertion is often made by minority faith leaders promoting their own state-funded schools. Experience in Scotland and Northern Ireland have not proved it true.
I’m not claiming that faith schools are responsible for all segregation and intercultural tension – the roots of segregation are often economic accidental and residential. But it does seem unwise for the state to be actively encouraging religious divisions by funding single faith schools.
And the argument that is often made for faith schools as a tool of social cohesion is that they can have exchanges with other faith schools – a rather roundabout way of achieving what could be achieved in a shared school.
Instead, I would like state schools to include children of all faiths and none, enabling them to learn with and from each. The state should not be funding divisive, unnecessary and discriminatory faith schools. We will regret this counterproductive use of public money in decades to come. Our society is increasingly diverse and the population as a whole is increasingly secular – a progressive change, generation on generation.
Our education system had to adapt itself to this fact, and the privilege for religion, and Christianity in particular, that faith schools represent, cannot be a part of that future.
Andrew Copson is Education and Public Affairs Officer at the British Humanist Association.
Concerns about faith schools and extremism, Ekklesia, 10 April 2006
Concerns about the impact of faith-based schools, especially fundamentalist ones, have been expressed by two major teaching unions in the light of the Labour government’s controversial education reforms.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers is today debating a motion at its conference which says that the government should stop using taxpayers money to fund faith schools by 2020.
The move follows a warning from Britain's biggest teaching union, the National Union of Teachers, that religious fundamentalists are gaining control of state schools by a back door which is becoming a front door as a result of the government's city academy programme.
The NUT is also concerned and some private businesses are gaining undue influence over the curriculum, and is additionally anxious about creationists trying to manipulate science teaching.
Critics of the present reforms argue that unrepresentative sectional groups are able to buy privilege in what is supposed to be a system for all, and that schools rooted in particular faith communities can often end up being socially divisive.
ATL leader Dr Mary Bousted told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning that as many as a third of city academies could be controlled by fundamentalist groups under the new system ñ a claim disputed by Church of England spokesperson Canon John Hall, who nonetheless sought to stress the difference between such groups and the majority Anglican and Catholic schools.
Supporters of mainline faith schools (including Jewish ones) say that up to 80 per cent of some inner city communities are educated in their establishments, which includes many Muslims and Hindus.
But secularists are critical of a bias against humanist or non-believing families, who they say make up the tacit majority. And other faith communities are lobbying for schools of their own, which would further the fragmentation.
Meanwhile progressive Christians say that faith should be a free choice, not one imposed on others through a ‘Christendom’ style deal between religious and political leaders.
At the heart of the argument is the issue of fairness and equal access. Dr Bousted, whose union has traditionally been seen as moderate or even conservative, today launched a stinging attack on the dangers of ghettoisation at the heart of Labour’s reforms - which have also split Tony Blair’s party.
“In the name of choice and diversity the government is determined to press ahead ñ to take schools out of the democratic structure provided by local authorities, to reduce effective parental involvement and to create a market in education,” she declared.
Earlier today Canon John Hall said that the churches had founded school education well before the state stepped in, and that the Church of England is looking to add 100 secondary schools to its current ‘portfolio’ of around 4,000.
He also defended nondenominational evangelical schools. Two or three schools which are doing “a very good job” have come under fire “for reasons which are unclear”, he said.
Last year the Roman Catholic Cardinal for England and Wales and a senior Anglican bishop both admitted to qualms about Christian children going to a Muslim school, undermining the argument that faith schools are neutral.
Statement on religious education opens church schools up to accusation of double standards, Ekklesia and agencies, 22 February 2006.
Faith schools should teach pupils about other religions as well as their own in order to 'combat prejudice', leaders of the major faiths have said in a statement.
Religious leaders have signed a declaration backing the teaching of not only their own religion, but an awareness of the "tenets" of other faiths in schools.
However, the statement may open church schools up to accusations of double standards as they face growing pressure to abandon their own 'prejudiced' admissions policies which give preference to the children of parents who attend churches linked to the schools.
The signatories to the agreement include the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist organisations.
The joint statement with the Department for Education and Skills says that religious education enables pupils to "combat prejudice" and helps pupils to develop respect and sensitivity to others.
The agreement commits faith schools to using the non-statutory National Framework for Religious Education, drawn up in 2004, which encourages the teaching of the tenets of the five major religions.
"We believe that schools with a religious designation should teach not only their own faith but also an awareness of the tenets of other faiths," the statement said.
"We are fully committed to using the framework in developing the religious education curriculum for our schools and colleges."
Many religious schools already teach about faiths other than their own, but there is no legal requirement for them to do so.
The statement says religious education offers "opportunities for personal reflection and spiritual development".
It encourages pupils to develop their sense of identity and belonging and enables them to "flourish individually within their communities and as citizens in a pluralistic society and global community", they said.
But the declaration comes at a time, when widespread discrimination by many church schools in favour of those who attend churches is being highlighted by research which suggests church primary schools in England are less likely than local authority schools to admit children from poorer homes.
Jonathan Bartley from the religious thinktank Ekklesia said; "It is a welcome move that faith schools are acknowledging the need to teach about other faiths besides their own to 'combat prejudice'."
"Many church schools however need to face up to their own ongoing prejudice in their admissions policies. By continuing to give priority and preference to children who parents attend churches linked to the schools, they are giving off very mixed messages. Some might see this statement as a case of double standards."
Secularists also questioned the declaration. Keith Porteous Wood, director of the National Secular Society, said: "This new announcement is merely an effort to counter accusations that single-faith schools are divisive and a menace to social cohesion. The announcement is, in effect, an admission by the churches that they have used these schools as a means of proselytising their particular faith.
"Simply devoting a few hours to talking about other religions does nothing to stop the real divisiveness of these schools, which comes from separating children on grounds of religion at an early age and keeping them separated until they leave school."
The statement's signatories were the Anglican Bishop of Portsmouth, the Right Rev Kenneth Stevenson; Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor; Jon Benjamin of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Munisha of the Buddhist Society; Sarah Lane of the Free Churches Association; Anil Bhanot of the Hindu Council; Kathleen Wood of the Methodist Church; Sir Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain and Indarjit Singh of the Network of Sikh Organisations.
Church of Scotland Moderator Criticised for Opposing State-funded Faith Schools, by Eunice K. Y. Or, Christian Today, 25 May 2005.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is now meeting in Edinburgh - commenced on Saturday 21st May, and the new Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church, the Right Reverend David Lacy, has taken the position officially in the Church. His viewpoint regarding state-funded faith schools has been criticised by many, according to Ekklesia.
An interview revealed that the new Moderator of the General Assembly Rev David Lacy supported a fully integrated education system whilst opposing state-funded faith schools, which was seen by most Christians as centrist opinions.
"I don't think there is any requirement on the state to provide schools for any one faith," he was quoted by Ekklesia, "I'd rather see each faith providing education in any way it wants, as an extra."
In addition, Rev David Lacy also said that the Scottish Executive should be pursuing policies supporting and promoting marriage.
The spokesman from the Catholic Church of Scotland Peter Kearney said Rev Lacy’s comments were "interesting and very helpful".
Kearney added, "On the issue of faith schools: Scotland is a multi-cultural and multi-faith society, and it is a pity our education system doesn't reflect that."
One senior member of the Church warned people not to look upon Rev Lacy's views as having any bearing on the Kirk's position, arging that Rev Lacy’s opinion was just a personal one.
"The Moderator has to be very careful when he is speaking as the ultimate representative of the General Assembly and when he's speaking as a private individual," he said. "On this occasion I think he was very much commenting on the latter role."
Nevertheless, many on the liberal wing of the Church worried that Mr Lacy's comments have been a sign that he will be one of the most conservative moderators in recent years.
The Right Rev David W. Lacy, the new Moderator of the 2005 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, was General Assembly Business convener from 2001 to 2004 and is a member of the Council of Assembly. Ordained by the Presbytery of Edinburgh in 1976, he has served on various Church boards and committees at national and presbytery levels.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will close this Friday 27th May .
Last updated 4 September 2008