Faith Schools

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Education in the United Kingdom has a long history of being linked with the Church of England and other denominations of Christianity. However, while the Church’s influence over areas such as politics, medicine and social values has declined enormously, with the dramatic drop in church attendance we have witnessed over the past century, religious involvement in education remains relatively high. [1]

The shift to a liberal constitution in this country has led to secularism in most areas of public life. Employers are not permitted to discriminate on religious grounds, faith no longer gives you the right to discriminate in a service such as a Bed and Breakfast, and more of our politicians are prepared to be openly non-religious than ever before. However, it remains in law that every school should hold a daily act of collective worship for all except those who are explicitly withdrawn by their parents. Why is this still seen as necessary? Well, the answer is that it isn’t. According to the Mail 60% of people no longer support this requirement and two thirds of schools fail to observe it. [2] So while it is certainly wrong that it is still technically a legal requirement in a multicultural society, this is not the secularist’s most pressing concern.

What it more worrying is the rise of faith schools. While all schools are required to have some faith, “faith schools” (or “schools of a religious character”) take this further. At present, 19% of all secondary schools and 37% of all primary schools are faith schools and that number is rising. [3] Faith schools are seen to be more successful than non-faith schools and so often have many more applications, which can result in a peculiar surge of ten-year-olds and their families attending church. [4] However, the evidence that faith schools actually provide better education is flimsy at best. While there is, by some measures, a slight edge on the performance of faith schools, this can quite reasonably be put down to the fact that parents who are prepared to jump through hoops to get their child admittance to a school they perceive to be better are more likely to be encouraging of their children and push them to improve in other ways. Also the fact that the schools themselves are allowed to select their pupils in a way other schools cannot is significant. [5] If we acknowledge that the only reason faith schools may conceivably produce better results than ordinary state schools is because of the people who go to them then we essentially acknowledge the existence of a two-tier education system very similar to that of public and state schools. Except, we as taxpayers are funding this unfair system.

Why should taxes be used to promote religious schools which have exclusive admission policies and may well alienate people of other faiths and none? [6] Surely religion should be the business of the parents, not the school? The main argument used by defenders of faith schools is that people have a “right” to send their children to a school which teaches the religion of their choice. But, how is it possible for the state to provide a school of every religion, that’s accessible to the people of that religion? Do people of all religions, however small, have the right to send their children to a religious state school of their choice? Should people also be able to send their children to a school of their race or political views? And if not, why not? Arguing everyone has a right to send their children to a school of the religion of their choice has too many pitfalls to even enter the realms of a plausible argument. Furthermore, for a country that has witnessed first hand the horrors of sectarian religious conflict in Northern Ireland, it is particularly surprising how many of us are prepared to segregate and brand children at such a young age, long before they’re equipped to make an informed decision about religion.

That up to a fifth of people in the UK are creationists indicates a problem in our education system. [7] Personally I never went to particularly religious schools yet was taught the myth of Adam and Eve repeatedly from age 5, but only had two science lessons on evolution in about year 9. Rejection of science for myth should be seen as a failing in our education system. If students are presented with “both theories” and then asked to make up their own mind who can blame them for selecting the false one that has been taught to them from a young age and is endorsed by the school, either explicitly or tacitly through its endorsement of a religious text. It’s hardly surprising that the factual truth of evolution is not always reached.

Furthermore, there is an increasing burden on schools to teach children about sex education, but how can a school based on a religion that opposed the use of condoms do this? And how can children be brought up to be open-minded members of a liberal society if their school has openly supported a religion that may be homophobic or sexist, or claim that those of other faiths are going to hell? [8]

Children are the most susceptible people in society to manipulation and indoctrination. We instruct children to do and believe as they are told from a young age, and if authority figures, who spend most of the day telling them about science and history tell them about Adam and Eve, how is the child to know the difference? While schools have a responsibility to teach children to think critically and make up their own mind, they should not do this by teaching children stories which have no basis in fact whatsoever. This is a misuse of taxpayer’s money and a gross abuse of childhood.

Article by Alex Chafey. Edited by Ben Mackay.

Sources and Further Reading

[1] God is Dead: secularization in the West- Steve Bruce, 2002
[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2034254/Two-thirds-schools-ignore-daily-act-worship-requirement.html
[3] http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools
[4] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1530158/Two-visits-to-church-per-month-for-school-admission.html
[5] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1536310/Faith-schools-pick-the-best-pupils.html
[6] http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/sep/20/faith-schools-governor
[7] http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/feb/01/evolution-darwin-survey-creationism
[8] http://www.channel4.com/programmes/faith-school-menace/4od#3126680

  • Joe Blatch

    Good argument Alex, especially that it’s not the schools which are fundamentally better, but that the parents are more driven. It’s not the parents fault directly however, they just want their children to get the best education possible. Secretly (perhaps not secret, but understood that its better it goes unsaid) everyone knows that those who are driven to get their children in are usually more supportive. If the school is not a faith school, but still very good, then usually the catchment area of the school comes under intensive debate and young families attempt to buy houses in the ever decreasing catchment area.