Should religion run our schools?

Submitted by Janine on 17 March, 2005 - 6:29 Author: Jean Lane

Notes from a discussion at a North London AWL branch meeting, introduced by Jean Lane.

What are the reasons for the growth in the movement for single-faith schools?
Why do socialists oppose this?

Sir Peter Vardy is a right-wing Christian fundamentalist, who is a millionaire through his car business. He runs the Vardy Foundation and its education arm, the Emmanuel Schools Foundation. He got together with a right-wing educationalist, and used the Tory view of school 'independence' to take over a state school. The New Labour government's policy allows a private sponsor such as Vardy to set up a new school or take over a 'failing' school. The sponsor puts in an amount of money (say, £2m), then the government puts in a lot more (say, £20m). The sponsor gets significant control over the school, including control over the school's name, staff, governors, pay and conditions, curriculum, policy and ethos.

Through this mechanism, Vardy was able to set up Emmanuel College in Gateshead, which was opened by Tony Blair. Creationism is taught as being of equal value to scientific theories of evolution. Harry Potter is banned from the school library because it allegedly encourages Satanism; all pupils have a personal-issue Bible which they must carry with them at all times. There is a high degree of regimentation, very strict discipline, and dress code.

Lots of working-class parents fear failing schools and lack of discipline, and may find this sort of regime attractive. But it is a disaster for children.

(Non-religious) State education is far from perfect. It is a 'sausage machine' to turn out workers, and is dominated by testing, league tables etc. But there are good things happening too, largely through the hard work and determination of teaching staff. Teachers have won the space to encourage students' self-respect, self-discipline, desire to learn, and sense of self and place in the world. They can hold interesting debates and education on issues such as citizenship, PSHE, and social issues.

These things are threatened by the rise in religious-based education and single-faith schools.

For kids, going to school should be about interacting with the world as it exists, in all its diversity. So segregating schooling through single-faith or single-sex schools is wrong.

Some parents go to the length of attending church just in order to get their kids into church schools. For some, this is about the appeal of discipline or of 'good performance' eg. in league tables. But for some white parents, it can be a way of getting your kids into a majority-white school. The existence of single-faith schools is de facto segregating education by enabling parents to use religion as a cover for race.

Faith schools - especially in the new 'academy' system - are able to select, and to exclude, pupils in order to become an 'elite' school with 'good' exam results. But this is not because religious education is better education, it is because the system is set up so that they can manipulate it.

Tony Blair fully supports these developments. As does new Education Secretary Ruth Kelly, who is a supporter of an eccentric and reactionary Catholic sect, Opus Dei.

Discussion:

Janine: I agree with Jean about single-faith schools leading to racial segregation. For example, in a mixed white/Asian area, replacing secular schools with a Christian school and a Muslim school will have the result of replacing racially-mixed schools with a 'white' school and an 'Asian' school. You will then get a generation of white kids growing up with no Asian friends, and a generation of Asian kids growing up with no white friends. Then you will get racism amongst young adults, which can easily become racist violence.

Some people argue that we should have single-faith schools because parents have the right to bring up kids in their own faith. For example, RMT General Secretary Bob Crow argues this. I'd disagree with that for two reasons. Firstly, there is a limit to the rights that parents have over kids: children have rights too, including the right to an objective, critical, unbiased education. Secondly, even if parents have the right to (try to) pass on their beliefs to their children, they have no right to expect the state to do it for them by allowing religions to run schools.

Dave: The academy system is anti-egalitarian and undemocratic, with school management unelected and unaccountable.

Jean is right about diversity in schools, but there is a degree to which you will not meet the full diversity of society in school, because some schools are located in working-class areas, some in affluent areas, some in cities, some in villages. But this is all the more reason that government policy should not make the situation worse by encouraging even more forms of segregation.

There are issues around equality for people from different faiths/traditions in access to education. For example, the school week/year is based around Christian observation, which is not fair to non-Christians and can push out some religious minorities.

Secularism is about keeping the state and religion separate, and not privileging religion. It is not about the state being actively anti-religion.

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/15/2005 - 14:45

excellent article.
In Nottingham the local council are proposing a local small private school (Islamia school) become a large LEA Voluntary aided school.
It is being opposed by all the local schools who not only will have their most academic pupils creamed off to an elitist school but it will be the death knell for many already facing possible closure because of less children in the area as the demography changes(more students ,childless male immigrants and smaller families)
this is the same area where last week aman was killed outside my kids school which led to Nottingham being dubbed "assassination city" in yesterday's Sun newspaper.
And yet we love our local schools and are proud we have not had the same segregation as occured in Oldham,Burnley or Bradford with it's consequential poor race relations.
Even the most obvious schools earmarked for closure have parents and workers fighting back.Yesterday Unity school (near the Islamia school and the murder) had a rally saying "we want to say what our solutions are" organised by a parent Nikki. she told me that the school is loved and th3e kids are happy and yet the Government are prepared to spend £140 million knocking down most schools and rebuilding them as "Academies"(as they did with the local Forest school recently) but cram more and more kids into schools further and further away from where they live.And still have low paid staff ,poor nutrition etc etc.
If you want to join our campaigns against the changes and for a positive solution I can be contacted on 07963 464569

Submitted by Tim on Sun, 02/18/2007 - 01:17

The result of the campaign against giving nearly a million pounds of public money to a small group of religious people to run the Islamia school was historic-the first application in England to be turned down -it should give heart to others fighting for democratic and secular education-below is the local paper's report.In it the MAB and the school head claim the committee was hostile.In fact that is rubbish .The private school were given more than their fair share of time to present(and interupt frequently!).They were just shocked that their lies about consulting with the communities were exposed and that the opposition was so widespread not just unions but governors,headteachers and many members of the muslim communities.:-
Nottingham Evening Post
MUSLIMS' ANGER AT SCHOOL DECISION
CLARE COOK
16:00 - 13 May 2005
A Nottingham school has failed in its bid to become only the fourth
Muslim state primary in the country.
The independent Islamia School in Hyson Green had applied to become
a voluntary-aided state school, which would entitle it to Government
funding.

But the school's application has now been turned down by
Nottingham's School Organisation Committee, which is made up of city
councillors, governors and church leaders.

The decision has angered the school's staff and members of the
Muslim community.
School head Musharraf Hussain said the decision was a "blatant
injustice" and vowed to appeal.
Dr Hussain said: "I am very sad and angry because all the points
they have made are baseless. The committee were hostile and
unfriendly.

"We will fight this injustice and it should not be allowed to
happen."
Tahir Alam, chairman of education at the Muslim Council of Britain,
said it was the first primary in the country to be turned down for
state funding.
"This is a major blow," he said. "There are around 20 Muslim schools
applying at the moment and this will be disappointing news."
Anas Altikriti, of the Muslim Association of Britain, which has
supported similar applications, said: "The Muslim community in
Nottingham have been dealt with unjustly. There will be huge
disappointment, not just in the city.
"These schools aim to have the highest standards for everyone."
Governors were expected to meet tonight to discuss the committee's
decision, which was made behind closed doors on Monday and published
yesterday.
The 86-place school is based on the site of the former Ukrainian
Social Club in Bentick Road. Parents with children at Islamia school
pay £1,600 a year in fees.
Arlene Badshamiah, 27, whose son is four, said: "He really enjoys
the school and we wanted a more secure future. It is a huge shame."
The committee said the proposal had failed to comply with the
Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998 and failed to "adequately
and properly consult all interested parties".
Concerns were also raised over the impact on surplus places in the
city, admissions policy and special education needs provision.
However, the decision was welcomed by the Muslim community in The
Meadows.
Mohammed Ishaq Kashmiri, trustee of The Meadows Muslim centre,
said: "We are relieved. The proposals were not discussed with the
wider Muslim community to assess what everyone wanted."
Head teachers, the National Union of Teachers, and local councillors
presented 17 objections.

The National Secular Society campaigns for schools to be non-
religious. Spokesman Keith Porteous said: "We are relieved. We only
have one chance to teach tolerance of people with other faiths and
races and that is at school. If they all grow up together, that is
the way to break down deteriorating race relations."

Tim Cooper