Sunday, 31 August 2008

Faithful turn against faith schools

. Melanie McDonagh, writing in the Independent on Sunday, writes an engaging piece on the launch of Accord. Accord is a campaign group seeking to end the religious discrimination practised by faith schools and seeks to open them up to all. Now it is not a normal one by any standards; it is not staffed and supported by the usual suspects who you would expect to be against faith schools like the National Secular Society but has substantial support from progressive religious figures. A progressive Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Romain, is the chairman and it has support from the Christian think-tank Ekklesia.

It is worth quoting at length from Accord's 'Declaration of aims';

"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."

All good stuff and something that a committed atheist as well as a devout believer can sign-up too. The unifying potential of secularism as a political and, dare I say it democratic, principle can be seen here; it is simply not true that opponents of faith schools are the ones sowing social division and creating a segregationist society.

McDonagh argues the point rather brilliantly herself;

"But it's precisely the fact that they are discriminatory that makes them Catholic, or Anglican, or Jewish, or Muslim."

At least she admits they are discriminatory and seems perfectly willing to celebrate that fact;

"A Catholic school in which the children are drawn impartially from all religious groups and none, in which the staff, from the head down, are no more likely to be Catholic than agnostic, is simply not going to be a Catholic school , period. It will simply be a school which happens to have a funny religious name and which has a distant historical connection with the Catholic church, by virtue of having been established by an order of nuns or whatever.

It will be impossible for such a school to have what is fashionably called a Christian ethos – because, believe it or not, such an ethos is not some sort of free-floating quality which happens to attach itself to a church school."

So, not only are these schools cradles of religious discrimination and crucibles of inherent prejudice but they are not even any good as representatives of the values they are supposed to instill. Her comparison with Labour university societies and working men's clubs is invalidated by precisely the point that she makes; namely the exclusionary status of these bodies is not enshrined in or protected by law. Rather they are self-selecting, no Conservative in his right mind would join a Labour society and affluent business men prefer fashionable wine bars. Her argument that if Conservatives wanted to join a Labour society they would "change it's character radically" is, being blunt, stupid. As pointed out above they wouldn't want too they choose not too but they do have that choice; the same can't be said of hapless pupils and parents faced with the great walls put up around faith schools. They are denied the choice.

I find it ironic that she can write so blithely about faith schools not "skimming the cream" in a newspaper which in the past has produced stories which show a wealth of evidence that they do indiscriminately. Even she shows the take-up of free school meals is some 5% lower than across the wider state sector and then goes onto vaguely say this "does not prove anything." She then goes onto say 'Church schools work' so why get rid of them?? Surely she has already answered that question in admitting their discriminatory nature and it follows that discrimination fosters prejudice so for her to say "Accord is a simple recipe for discord" is to show how well-grounded proponents of faith schools are in a pig-headed ability to stare facts in the face.


carrion said...

Faith schools' discriminatory entry policies don't even do what they're supposed to - pushy, middle-class, non-religious parents are quite prepared to go to church every Sunday for a few years if it means getting little Pippa or Toby into the good, local (faith) school. This is particularly true of Anglican schools because of the socio-economic profile of the average church-going Anglican: white, middle-class, etc.

Net result? "Faith" discrimination policies become selection by class, by the back door.

Darrell G said...

Well quite...I think there is plenty of evidence that faith based discrimination is not the only kind that faith schools practice....