The well-known English secular philosopher and educator, Professor A.C. Grayling, considers that religious education has a legitimate place in the curriculum of a state-sponsored education system. He further considers that religious education must not be taught with a sectarian, confessional or evangelistic approach, or in any way that favours one religious faith over another.
That being the case, faith schools of any kind have no place in Professor Grayling’s scenario for the teaching of religion. He suggests that the most appropriate way of including religious education in the secular curriculum of state schools is through its participation in a subject inclusive of “the history of ideas”. I would suggest that such an approach could be through the teaching of philosophy and ethics.
For that process to be realized, however, it requires the debunking of a number of myths that have grown-up around the idea of religious education and faith schools. In the previous article (121: Myth-Busting), I dealt with the first five of ten such myths. In what follows, I will debunk a further five myths associated with teaching religious education other than with an approach that firmly places the subject within a secular framework – such as that suggested in the above paragraph.
(As with the previous article, in what follows I acknowledge the use of material from the National Secular Society’s [NSS] No More Faith Schools campaign).
MYTH 6: “We are a Christian country, so therefore it is only right that we have Christian schools that teach our Christian values”.
It is hardly true to say that the UK in the 21st century is a “Christian country”. Meanwhile, many majority Christian countries don’t have state faith schools.
According to the 2017 British Social Attitudes Survey, only around 40% of people in the UK identify as Christian (that is not to say that, indeed, they are practising Christians, with all that this implies, for example, regular attendance at worship within a Christian church). In fact, over half of Britons have no religion whatsoever – including an astonishing 71% of people aged 18-24. Christians, and indeed people of any religion, are now a minority group in the UK.
Be that as it may, it is instructive to learn that many countries with much higher Christian populations, for example, the USA, don’t have state-funded faith schools. Moreover, on the basis of fairness and universal provision, it is hard to argue that the Christian religion should have state funded schools, but that Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jedi or Scientology, or any other sect, should not.
MYTH 7: “Children can just opt out of religious activities at faith schools”.
Opting children out and excluding them is not ideal, as well as being both actively and passively discouraged by many faith schools. It is far better to ensure all aspects of the school day are inclusive of all pupils. It should be noted that the children themselves do not have the right to opt out of collective worship before the age of 16.
Parents have the right to withdraw children from collective worship, but many parents regard this as an unreasonable imposition on both themselves and their children. And even though parents have withdrawal rights, this is often far more difficult to exercise than might be imagined. In fact, it is sometimes even difficult for children to opt out of religious activities in non-religious schools!
Within faith schools, the practical difficulties in exercising the right of withdrawal become insurmountable when worship encroaches into the classroom and religion permeates the whole school experience. The UK is the only Western democracy to legally impose worship in publicly funded schools. The law in England and Wales provides that children at all maintained schools “shall on each school day take part in an act of collective worship”. Northern Ireland and Scotland have similar laws. Even in schools with no religious designation, the worship must be “wholly or mainly of a Christian character”.
MYTH 8: “Church schools are for everyone”.
Despite all of its talk of ‘inclusivity’ the Church of England appears increasingly keen to turn the schools it runs into places of worship. It fails to understand that there’s more to inclusivity than not having a discriminatory admissions policy.
Church schools are increasingly under pressure from the CofE to assert a robust Christian ethos – even in schools with a religiously diverse and largely religiously indifferent school community. Doing so is disrespectful to both pupils and parents. Many parents don’t want somebody else’s religion imposed on their children whilst at school.
In addition to Ofsted inspections, ‘church schools’ have religiousity inspections by their local dioceses to ensure that they are “distinctively and recognisably Christian institutions”. Pressure to receive a favourable diocesan inspection may well explain why we’re now seeing some church schools increasing their religiosity by worshipping at the beginning and end of each day and before and after lunch; introducing prayer corners in classrooms; having regular visits from priests, and even employing them as ‘school chaplains’.
This proselytism and evangelism in church schools undermines parental rights and children’s religious freedoms. It is presently quite usual that senior staff in church schools are practising Christians and that this is actually a job requirement for many head-teachers.
Many parents feel uncomfortable raising concerns about the way in which religion is being promoted in their child’s school, fearing their perfectly reasonable stance will be regarded as ‘anti-religious’ by the religious authorities running the school – and indeed they are often given a frosty and defensive response.
And as previously mentioned, many faith schools, including CofE schools, actively discriminate against those who are not of the faith.
MYTH 9: “Faith schools help to relieve the burden on the state system by funding our children’s education”.
The vast proportion of funding for faith schools of any description comes not from the religious body, but from the state. It comes from taxes – yours and mine!
In the case of Voluntary Aided schools, all of their running costs and 90% of their building costs are funded by their state. The remaining 10% of building costs are supposedly payed for by the religious body. This is typically met by fundraising among the parents, or by further government grants.
All other types of faith schools in England and Wales are funded 100% by the state.
MYTH 10: “We’re stuck with them”.
Not at all! A growing number of groups and individuals are campaigning for the end to faith schools. They believe the abolition of state-funded faith schools is not only an achievable goal, but an absolute must if the UK is to be a country where people of all backgrounds and all walks of life can coexist peacefully, and where individual liberty of belief and expression is respected.
Politicians often recognise the problems with faith schools, but feel that they and we are stuck with them or consistently overestimate their popularity. The National Secular Society’s campaign No More Faith Schools is designed to give a voice to the people of all faiths and none who oppose faith schools. Few other European nations fund faith schools, and where they do this is being questioned, e.g. in Sweden.
If we take action together, change is possible!
A MYTH-BUSTING CONCLUSION:
No More Faith Schools is a national campaign dedicated to bringing about an end to state funded faith schools. Faith schools have a negative impact on social cohesion, foster segregation of children on social, ethnic and religious lines, and undermine choice and equality. They also enable religious groups to use public money to evangelize children.
This campaign is a platform for everyone who wants to see an inclusive education system, free from religious control. If you think children from all faith and belief backgrounds should be educated together and allowed to develop their own beliefs independently, join the NSS in saying No More Faith Schools. Together we can build an inclusive education system today, to ensure an inclusive society tomorrow.
There are dangers if education and schools keep going down the road of creating more faith schools from different religions.
Are science and history subjects being taught in a less than honest manner with regards to such subject areas as, respectively, evolution or the establishment of the Anglican Church? It is also of major concern that some faiths and, therefore, faith schools, do not inculcate in their students the understanding and practice of such important contemporary issues as human rights, gender equality and equal opportunities for females in education, the home, the workplace and generally within society.
The young and vulnerable are being subjected to biased views that, if accepted, can only lead to isolation and a hostile view of others. This is particularly so when it comes to fundamentalist faith schools. Therefore, as with the National Secular Society’s campaign No More Faith Schools…
NO MORE SEGREGATION…NO MORE DISCRIMINATION…NO MORE FAITH SCHOOLS.
(Sources related to the NSS Campaign No More Faith Schools, include: Populus; Opinium 2014; Opposition to Faith Schools 2013; You Gov; Westminster Faith Debates; Institute for Public Policy Research; Challenge, School Dash and the iCoCo Foundation; The Sutton Trust; Fair Admissions Campaign; Accord Coalition for Faith Admissions; The Belfast Telegraph; House of Commons Debates)