Friday, January 25, 2008

Britain cannot put its faith in religiously divided schools

by Richard Heller, Yorkshire Post
Reposted from:,2144,n,n via

ALTHOUGH a third of England's state schools are already under religious control, the Government has decided to create even more of them.

In a private deal with a number of religious leaders, Ministers have committed themselves to remove "unnecessary barriers to the creation of new faith schools", to give such schools additional funding from central government and to encourage fee-paying religious schools to join the state sector.

In exchange, the religious leaders have signed up to some pious platitudes about building understanding and tolerance of other faiths.

Many people believe it is incumbent on every citizen, never mind every school, to build understanding and tolerance of others, and that people should not get public money for doing their basic civic duty. The Government has got itself a very poor bargain.

Children's Minister Ed Balls, who will be cross-examined by MPs today, has suggested that faith groups share the Government's goal of promoting a more cohesive society and that
faith schools promote integration and community cohesion.

This suggestion flies in the face of common sense and the experience of Northern Ireland and many other countries, where faith schools have entrenched social, cultural and economic divisions and perpetuated them through succeeding generations.

Faith schools exist as an emanation of religious faith. Their central and universal premise is that children are better people if they adhere to one particular faith. All other children are in some way inferior or diminished, perhaps even pitiable. They may need to be converted, saved or redeemed: at best, they can be tolerated but never regarded as equal.
That is what a faith school entails. It is bad enough that the state should fund such an outlook at taxpayers' expense, but to do so in the name of social integration is preposterous.

Even if faith schools were not divisive, they raise other important issues of principle which the Government has consistently refused to acknowledge or debate.

All religious faiths, without exception, are self-selecting minorities. They represent groups of people who have chosen certain beliefs.

Why should any minority group enjoy special funding, influence or control in an essential public service just because of their beliefs? What makes religion so superior to other convictions?

If we are to have publicly funded faith schools, should we also fund anti-faith schools (for the parents who believe that all religions are harmful)?
Or, indeed, political schools for parents who believe passionately in a political party – or ornithological schools for the many more parents who believe passionately in protecting birds?

Ministers claim that faith schools enlarge parental choice. But the Government does not attempt to meet the choice of every single parent for a child's education. Some parents passionately want their child to play cricket for Yorkshire and England and would like their school to prepare him accordingly.

The state does not meet their wishes.

More seriously, some parents are racist, homophobic or treat women as inferior, sometimes on the basis of religious belief. The state does not meet their wishes in education.

These represent extreme cases, but they illustrate how faith schools force government to make invidious decisions.

Some parental beliefs are encouraged and publicly funded: others are not. They turn the state into a licensing agency for views and beliefs.

Faith schools also raise the vital question of children's rights. Should children be compelled to receive religious instruction at their parents' behest? Should this be funded by the state?

In support of its proposal, the Government referred to "Muslim children" along with Hindu and Sikh children as being under-provided with state schools. It would have been more accurate to say "children of Muslim/Hindu/Sikh parents".
Children should not be identified by their parents' religion: they will make that choice for themselves when they are mature enough and it is no role of the state to promote it.

Finally, and perhaps most seriously, faith schools will entrench religious politics in our country. They turn every faith into clients of government, and vice versa.

They make every faith group a lobbyist: whatever public money and power is given to one faith group is automatically demanded by another.
Within every faith group they encourage factions to compete for the control of public funding, and, even more important, for the power within the community that accompanies control over a school.

To paraphrase Ernest Bevin, faith schools open up a Pandora's box of Trojan horses for our country.

Has the Government seriously considered their consequences for children and their rights, for society and for the future of British politics?

Or has it surrendered, tamely, to well-organised lobbying?

Richard Heller is an author, journalist and political adviser to Denis Healey, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Last Updated: 09 January 2008 8:34 AM

reposted from:,2144,n,n
Chris Street comments are in bright green;
highlights in yellow blockquotes.

Comments from,2144,n,n

2. Comment #113533 by Slyer on January 20, 2008 at 12:33 am

 avatarI need to start my own atheist school, atheists only! No doubt that the fundies wouldn't approve. :)

3. Comment #113534 by epeeist on January 20, 2008 at 12:34 am

 avatarGood opinion piece, especially as the YP tends to be somewhat conservative in outlook.

I posted this in another thread -

Seems Ed Balls might not be as convinced about faith schools as seems to be intimated.

Incidentally, unless he has changed Dennis Healey isn't religious, my mother was his election agent for a short time and we used to know him reasonably well.

4. Comment #113541 by JemyM on January 20, 2008 at 12:59 am

 avatarSame people, different books, learning to be tolerant to eachother. Something tells me it's the book that is the problem, not the people. Whenever you label a person based on their thoughts, you do a terrible mistake. We have culturally condemned the idea of class, race, gender and the correct sexuality. Now lets abolish the idea of groups based on "nationality", "culture" and "religion" as well. Stop dividing people with illusionary walls. There is only one type of human.

5. Comment #113543 by davorg on January 20, 2008 at 1:24 am

 avatarThis piece was written before Ed Balls spoke to MPs and is therefore largely guesswork about what he might say.

What he actually said was rather different.
The Government has decided against backing more faith schools, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, Ed Balls, told MPs.

In what is being seen as one of the most significant policy shifts of the post-Tony Blair era in education, he told a Commons select committee: "It is not the policy of the Government nor my department to expand the number of faith schools. We're not leading a drive for more faith schools."

6. Comment #113547 by tobybarrett on January 20, 2008 at 1:57 am

 avatarIt is good to see the British Government slowly backing away from the ridiculous enthusiasm Blair had for "faith schools" ("sectarian schools" might be a better name).

But, but, but. This is probably just a change of "mood"; I cannot see the religious groups giving up their control of the education system. Jeremy Hardy once joked: "All religions are keen on educating children - let's face it, they'd never be able to convince adults".

I fear, these schools and their divisiveness will be with us for many years.

8. Comment #113553 by Paula Kirby on January 20, 2008 at 2:29 am

 avatarYes, I, too, have been encouraged by more recent news of Ed Balls' position on this topic. But, just in case he gets over-ruled, here are some more ideas for promoting cohesion in our society:

Let's help disabled children be more integrated into society by schooling them separately from able-bodied children.

And there's clearly only one way to overcome the communication difficulties between men and women, and that's by ensuring that the 2 sexes never meet in school hours during their formative years.

As for the lack of understanding between people of different races, well, clearly, the only way to stamp that out once and for all is to keep them apart as much as possible. In fact, why stop at schooling? Why not insist on separate housing areas, separate shopping areas, separate buses and trains? Let's just bring in fully fledged apartheid - after all, that was super-efficient at producing peace, harmony and justice last time it was tried, wasn't it?

10. Comment #113566 by davorg on January 20, 2008 at 3:56 am

"sectarian schools" might be a better name
I've always prefered "superstition schools" :-)

12. Comment #113572 by ericcolumba on January 20, 2008 at 4:27 am

 avatarNot all faith schools represent the same danger as not all religions are equally repressive, homophobic, mysoginistic and intollerant of the individuals right to abandon the faith that they never chose.

The creation of state funded muslim schools amounts to government sponsored fascism, all done in the name of multiculturalism and trying not to offend those who believe in the supernatural

13. Comment #113575 by Paula Kirby on January 20, 2008 at 4:37 am

ericcolumba: Not all faith schools represent the same danger as not all religions are equally repressive, homophobic, mysoginistic and intollerant of the individuals right to abandon the faith that they never chose.
That's undoubtedly true, but what they all have in common is the sheer inappropriateness of their being funded publicly.

14. Comment #113582 by Peacebeuponme on January 20, 2008 at 5:40 am

It just amazes me that the government wants us to move to increasing the number of faith schools rather than reducing them. I cannot believe that in the 21st century reason is still not winning out. We don't have our own Hogwarts, or astrology schools. I doubt very much you could get approval for a satanist school, so why a catholic or muslim one? What if the Scientologists try to start one?

They encourage divisiveness and teach rubbish (to varying degrees), and I am astounded that here in the UK we are allowing it. How far does it go? Will we have our very own madrassas in the future?

One thing the theists point to is how well they perform. This needs to be addressed and action taken to change. Why is it that non-faith schools generally do worse? I suspect the answer lies in the selection methods of the faith schools.

15. Comment #113583 by Peacebeuponme on January 20, 2008 at 5:42 am

inappropriateness of their being funded publicly.
I would fo further. I don't want children of this country indoctrinated with private funds either.

18. Comment #113593 by octopus on January 20, 2008 at 6:28 am

Cannot wait to see the first school for Jedi knights to be publicly funded. May force be with you!

9. Comment #113594 by Nick Good on January 20, 2008 at 6:34 am

I need to start my own atheist school, atheists only! No doubt that the fundies wouldn't approve. :)
That's a good point, it might be a good tactic too.

Rather than non-denominational schools, motivate for the state to fund schools, where the parents have to be members of the National Secular Society!

Or more realistically, it's a strong argument to use as a counter example - by way of Reductio ad absurdum - to set against arguments for 'faith schools' which use religious selection.

In practice, I wouldn't support atheist schools either. Schools should be non-denominational, religion should be taught as a subject - comparative religion, rather than any one 'brand' being inculcated into young, impressionable minds by indoctrination.

There should be no religious selection criteria in any school, for teachers or pupils; anymore than there should be any racial selection criteria. It should be seen as simply not-acceptable, anymore than it would be acceptable for the British Army, Tescos or the National Health Service, to have a selection process that favoured by race or's well time for the zeitgeist with regards religion in education to catch up with that regarding race. UK education is behind the curve when compared to the employment field, where outside of specific religious establishments, selection by religion, is getting to be just not acceptable.

We are in danger of slipping backwards, if the argument for religious schools holds, then why not for tertiary education institutions? I wont tangent in detail onto the disestablishment argument....but it does come to mind.

In practice, the biggest problem at the moment, is with Islam. Anlglicinism, the UK state religion, and Christianity in general, are in terminal decline in the UK.

Now personally, I don't see being an 'Islmophobe' as a pejorative at all, not in the slightest. Rather it's a tad oxymoronic, as 'fear of Islam' is anything but a 'phobia', meaning irrational - given Islam's koranic literalist mainstream form and it's history of being promulgated by violence since the time of the 'prophet'; something which manifests all over the World, to this day. This, combined with current Islamic demographics in the UK, as well as other countries, boosted by fecundity, serial immigration and massive global Saudi funding.

There are 150 new state funded Islamic schools in the pipeline in the UK, think about this good people! I think this is more than silly, and to put it mildly, is directly contrary to the UK's national interest.

We're going to see more of this sort of thing, which, to use a Kofi Annan-esque understatement, gives me cause for 'deep concern' - We want to offer Sharia Law in Britain

22. Comment #113626 by Friend Giskard on January 20, 2008 at 8:05 am

 avatarComment #113533 by Slyer on January 20, 2008 at 12:33 am
I need to start my own atheist school, atheists only! No doubt that the fundies wouldn't approve. :)

In fact someone has very recently tried to start a secular (not atheist) school in Britain, but the government soon put a stop to it. Read about it here:

27. Comment #113842 by dragonfirematrix on January 20, 2008 at 6:22 pm

Oh, those continuous dubious flirtations with faith… of mixing politics and religion…

We need to get back to basics. We need to get back to truth. We need to start atheist-based schools, evolution-based schools, humanist-based schools, secular humanist based schools, Wicca-based schools etc. I bet this would excite the faith based!

28. Comment #113994 by cassdenata on January 21, 2008 at 7:13 am

It is good to see the consciousness-raising of not labeling children by their parents religion, that Professor Dawkins is promoting, is catching on.,2144,n,n

+++++++Comments from

Paul Bohanna,

N. Shropshire 19/01/2008 16:04:48
An excellent article that puts many of the issues concerning religious schools very clearly. Most people in this country are not religious, a tiny minority attend any form of worship ever. The number of religious weddings and funerals as well as church attendance has been dropping dramatically for many years and continues to do so.
In time, if left to themselves, these outdated superstitous institutions would become extinct. That is why they are so desperate to wield their disproportionate political power to force their indoctrination upon our children.
Children are vulnerable to this kind of irrational brainwashing.
An indoctrinated child = a new recruit = more money and power for the churches.
Religious institutions are already unbelievably wealthy with billions in cash before even considering the huge swathes of land and other assets they have managed to 'accquire' over the centuries.

The sooner all religions are removed from schools, the better. As usual the government is completely out of touch with the people. But then what choice do we have when every major party has pledged its support for religious schools?


Hedon 20/01/2008 11:56:58
"Left to themselves, these outdated superstitous institutions would become extinct," you say, Paul: in which case, one wonders why you appear so reluctant to leave them to themselves? Which kind of school presently produces the best results? Why do parents have their children baptised simply to obtain a place in those schools? I taught in faith schools for almost my entire career; they bend over backwards to be inclusive and socially cohesive. It seems to me that the perspecive from which you write is concerned neither with faith nor education, but with mere politics - and nothing has been more damaging to education for the last 20 years than politics.


Tokyo 21/01/2008 08:55:05
Claudius, the reason for the apparent success of faith schools in exam tables has nothing to do with their religious ethos and everything to do with their cherry-picking the best students. If they were forced to take children on the same basis as all other schools, the apparent success would vanish like the illusion it really is.


Hedon 21/01/2008 10:12:20
I'm afraid the suggestion that faith schools cherry pick pupils for their academic ability is mere nonsense, Kimpatsu: it rather creates the impression that you don't really know what you're talking about. I've seen well-behaved, hard working and extremely capable pupils turned away fron faith schools with the available places awarded to thick, thoroughly nasty pieces of work, simply on the grounds that the latter was baptised. The only grounds that faith schools have beyond those of ordinary state schools so far as selection is concerned relates to faith - not ability. So far as performance is concerned, it actually works against faith schools when they are compelled to take an objectionable pupil becuse he or she subscribes (or pretends to subscribe) to the relevant faith.

1 comment:

  1. I think that children nowadays need guidance not only from their parents but also in their schools. Thanks for sharing this article.