Earlier this week I wrote to my Member of Parliament. The purpose for doing was to draw his attention to the National Secular Society’s No More Faith Schools campaign. (In what follows I acknowledge some use of the said campaign’s material).
As a member of the National Secular Society (NSS), I support the separation of religion and state, as well as equal respect for everyone’s human rights, so that no one is either advantaged or disadvantaged because of their beliefs. In recent years I have become more concerned that faith schools are fuelling segregation, discrimination and inequality, both in my local area but also nationwide.
So, in writing to my MP, I wanted to urge him to raise the issue of state-funded faith schools and to support an inclusive and religiously-neutral approach to education, in which children of all faiths and none are equally welcome in all schools and are able to develop their own beliefs.
Successive national surveys have shown conclusively that the UK is becoming increasingly irreligious, particularly with respect to formal religion and especially amongst the younger generation.
At the same time, the diversity within religions in the UK is growing. We need schools that reflect this and are equally welcoming to pupils from all faith backgrounds and none; an education system and schools that do not teach religion from one exclusive viewpoint.
Faith schools fail to do this.
Too often faith schools separate children according to the religion of their families, resulting in religious segregation and, very often, ethnic segregation. This does not adequately prepare children for adult life in a pluralist and multi-cultural UK.
Faith schools also teach their particular religious persuasion in a “confessional” manner, which not only implies that their religion is more “correct” than other worldviews, but also means children are given limited opportunity to form their own opinions or to adequately engage in dialogue across the various religious faiths.
This is a pathway to bigotry and prejudice.
It is unfair that many faith schools are allowed to prioritize children from a particular faith. We all pay for state faith schools regardless of our beliefs – religious or otherwise. I firmly believe that such schools should not then be given the right to discriminate against children on the basis of religion.
A further and significant consideration is the fact that, as faith schools are funded by public money, the British public should have some control over these schools and what religious philosophy and ethics they teach.
National polling consistently indicates that voters are opposed to faith schools. Parents want to send their children to schools that offer a high standard of education. The vast majority of parents don’t consider religion to be an important factor when making this choice. This situation is understandable, but indicates a misunderstanding of the value of religious studies in the educational spectrum.
I want to see the UK work towards making our state education system more inclusive and fair for families of all religions and none. The state has a duty to provide high quality, inclusive education for all children.
The foregoing is, in essence, what I wished to draw to the attention of my MP – urging him and the government he represents to take action to encourage the growth of inclusive schools with no religious ethos. The ultimate aim is to phase out faith schools. That is why the NSS has recently launched a national campaign dedicated to bringing an end to state-funded faith schools.
No More Faith Schools will urge the creation of an inclusive education system free from religious proselytization and discrimination.
The campaign is timely for faith schools account for around a third of publicly-funded schools in England and Wales, while many Scottish and Northern Irish schools are divided along sectarian lines.
No more indoctrination; no more segregation; no more discrimination. No more faith schools!
Of course, the above is not an argument for not teaching the subject of religion in a state system of secular education. On the contrary, as a former teacher of Religious Studies (Religious Philosophy and Ethics) in the state secondary sector, I am of the view that there is a strong argument for teaching religion in state-funded schools.
The question is how? With what specific pedagogical approaches and methods is the subject to be taught? Are we to move religious studies into a subject syllabus which the philosopher and educator A.C. Grayling has called the “history of ideas”?
But these are questions for another essay!