Thursday, November 08, 2007


This from a piece I wrote yesterday for the ourKingdom conversation on the future of the United Kingdom, a project of the excellent OpenDemocracy (with thanks to Anthony Barnett).

Like Polly Toynbee, I would be delighted to see the government re-think its policy on faith schools – and specifically the iniquity of selection on grounds of religion (or the lack of it).

But while I wish Polly well in her search for a secularist and humanist equivalent of “Hallelujah!” it’s worth pointing out that critics of faith schools are not just to be numbered from those who have problems with religion more generally. We will not get rid of selection by faith without support from the faiths, and there is plenty of it. Anglican chaplains, Jewish rabbis, [the] Christian think-tank Ekklesia – we are all part of the huge public concern for fair access to schooling, irrespective of belief. Read the rest of the article, and responses, here.


Doug said...

The huge issue that was largely untouched in the Economist article was the absence of discussion of the role of faith based non-violent action to bring about political change ovrr recent decades.

Northern Ireland, South Africa, Philippines, the overthrow of the Berlin Wall not to mention the role of peace initiatives in Nicaragua, Columbia brokered by faith based organisations.

Simon Barrow said...

Indeed. (This comment has appeared under the wrong article, and there's nothing I can do about it. See Economist one below).

Bob Churchill said...

Though I fully recognise that it is a more distant goal, the best way to rethink "iniquity in selection on grounds of religion" is surely to "rethink" faith schools altogether.

On a practical level, creating targets (25%, 50%...) for inclusion of pupils outside of the main faith implicated of the puils by the school, can only conflict with other targets such as catchment: some pupils will end up having to go to a school that is further away than the one they would have chosen, just so the school can balance its quota appropriately.

And on a more general level, setting these targets for representation will in some cases be a vain hope. Applications for non-Christian schools by the largely secular, white population, for example, are too low for the schools to be able to take in a sufficient proportion of such students anyway. And even if the iniquity is somewhat redressed, it will still be the case that some parents will have to send their children to religious schools that they would rather avoid (either because they are secular or adhere to another religion). Given that school placement is already a bit of a lottery, and that some families will be forced to end up with their last choice of a local school, surely the imposition of faith on those tax-funded schools is just an insult to injury.

The best way to reduce the iniquity of placement is to end the injustice of religiously-affiliated state-funded schools altogether.

Simon Barrow said...

Er... that's why I indeed said "I would be delighted to see the government re-think its policy on faith schools", Bob. But I think the way forward is for people who believe in inclusive, community schools to get together and argue for what they *favour* and for the ground rules to make this happen. That would be able to include many who (unlike you) think faith foundation schools could be remodelled in that direction - as with the Quaker foundation school, for instance. And many who (like you) don't. Abolition isn't on the cards, and the government is on the wrong track. Time for a different approach to the "more faith schools" versus "abolish them" trajectory, which only favours a stand-off between the C of E and the NSS. And we know who will win that one.