Old wine in new wineskins

The impression was immediate. The music was a reflection of the Scottish mountains through which I was driving – big, bold, imposing and unforgettable. It confronted my hearing in the grand manner of the Scandinavian symphonies of Anton Bruckner and the Germanic orchestral music of Richard Strauss.
Whilst I failed to comprehend all that was said by the presenter immediately after the music finished, I caught sufficient of the information conveyed to realize that the music was somehow related to the subject of “queen”.
I decided to follow-up and research the music when I returned home. This process enabled me to discover that the music that had made such an impression on me was a symphonic composition based on the music of Freddie Mercury and Queen. How glad I was to pursue my musical inclinations.
I purchased the CD/DVD of the music as soon as I was able and, with subsequent and repeated hearings, the piece has proved itself to be the personal musical surprise of recent years. It is a symphonic composition that shows to me that the Romantic Tradition in music is alive and well!!
Not that all of the music in the symphony is quite like that described above – big, bold and beautiful. There are a number of quieter, more subtle and subdued passages that are appreciated by the musical taste buds much in the same way that the taste palate responds to a gracefully matured wine. So too, it should be remembered that between the mountains there are valleys and, in the case of the Scottish glens, places that are still and quiet, as calm and mysterious as the deep and enchanting lochs they often harbour.
There is no questioning, however, that Tolga Kashif, the London born composer of the “Queen Symphony”, has pieced together the original music of Freddie Mercury and Queen to present a most impressive musical offering, music that “inherently contains the language of the modern classical genre.”
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays the piece as if to the manner born, indeed, as if the music were an integral part of the discography of classical music and of concert scheduling – both of which I would wish the music to become. The sophistication of the orchestra is equal to the task of extracting, indeed reinventing, full measure of the original essence of the music composed by Queen. Both the music and its orchestral rendition are most distinguished.
Listeners to this music should refrain from trying too hard to identify all of the original Queen songs used by the composer, as this could detract from an appreciation of the way in which the various tunes have been transformed, with various choirs and soloist musicians, into a more classical character and consistency.
However, some songs are more identifiable than others and aficionados of Queen’s music will have little difficulty in recognizing such gems as Radio Gaga, The Show Must Go On, We are the Champions, Killer Queen, We will Rock You and, of course, the incomparable Bohemian Rhapsody.
There was some personal disappointment in that Tolga Kashif., the composer-organizer of the music and the orchestra’s director, did not include that most poignant of pieces The Days of Our Lives in his composition. The tune would have made a beautiful and most appropriate adagio, alongside that other sublime song Who Wants to Live Forever (which is included on the CD).
So too, it is pity that room could not be found for such Queen classics as that outstanding hit Somebody to Love and the yearning ballad I Want to be Free. When it comes to Queen’s music there can never be “too much of a good thing”, so perhaps a second composition is to be hoped for! Still, the composer obviously feels “no need to use whole songs, or even whole melodies, unless he feels like it at any one moment.” He paints his “own musical pictures” and “he takes the music of Queen to new places.” Tolga Kashif has “a unique view of and a new dream for this music.”
The CD version of this recording comes singularly or as a special edition which includes the DVD of the symphony’s performance. Both facilities offer a most engaging and successful synthesis of Queen’s outstanding music, as well as excellent value for money.
On the back cover of the case containing the discs Queen’s Brian May states the following: Imagine a composer of the imagination and daring of a Tchaikovsky, a Holst or a Mussorgsky. Imagine him let loose with the entire Queen catalogue of melodies, atmospheres and textures, and a vast orchestra and a huge choir. Then you’ll be close to imagining where this work begins. This is something monumental and quite outrageous.
Since producing this recording the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has gone on to provide the orchestral backing for re-recordings of albums by, amongst others, Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, Genesis and Roy Orbison. Each of these has the original singer(s) as well as the re-recorded backing music.
The recording of the music from the Queen songs by Tolga Kashif and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is, however, the only attempt at composing a genuine piece of symphonic music from the music accompaniments to popular songs. The undertaking has been highly successful and is hugely enjoyable.
If ever the old saying “Old wine in new wineskins” could be given a fitting context it is the Tolga Kashif and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s recording of The Queen Symphony – a symphony in six movements inspired by the music of QUEEN. This is music appropriate to any and all of the days of our lives!
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Are some more equal than others?

In the previous article (see: A right-royal carve-up…) I referred to the plethora of television programmes that rehearsed the lives of the British monarch in particular and the royal lineage in general.
I made the comment that an outcome of the seemingly constant barrage of historical movies, television series and popular literature serve the purpose of inuring the public through a process of constantly thrusting the royals into their faces. It might also be that the opposite is true. These productions serve to promote both the traditional roles and contemporary disguises of the royals in order to maintain their privileged and un-earned status in society – the continuation of what could be termed the “Windsor’s false consciousness”.
Reviewing that article brought to my mind a piece published a number of years ago in the blog of the British Republican Movement (britishrepublicanblog.org). The said article was written following the birth of George (born 22 July, 2013), the first child of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and William, Duke of Cambridge. The title of the article was: Every child should be born equal. It was written by Zachary Adam Barker and, in part, what is written below reflects that article and its author.
The article began with a questions posed by a BBC Radio Bristol presenter, “Surely the birth of the third person in line to the throne can only be a good thing?” The question was, of course, in reference to George Windsor, and was asked as though it was a self-evident truth. In actual fact the birth of anyone is generally a good thing. The emergence of new persons into the world presents endless possibilities. What personalities will they display? What will be their role and function in life? Will they have a family? What will they become? What will be their contribution to human growth and development?
The above questions are applicable to babies born to members of the royal family as much as to any family. However, in the case of George Windsor and unlike the vast majority of the citizens of the British state, most of these questions had already been settled even before baby George emerged. The same may be said, though with a less-concerned voice, for his siblings, Charlotte and Louis.
The baby’s being, warts and all, will have been heavily filtered through the ruthless efficiency of the palace’s PR machine. Eventually the person that boy George is in the process of becoming, as “third in line to the throne”, will be required to be the progenitor of others in the royal line in order to ensure the continuity of the British monarchy. In due course, he could also become the British Head of State – whether desired or deserved, or otherwise.
All of this puts a hefty burden on the child that came into the world just a few years ago and entered that world through a route designed for all babies, regardless of wealth or privilege. It also automatically grades any other British child as unworthy of or unsuited to take on, or volunteer to take on, that burden when they come of age.
Perhaps what might be considered as the most objectionable aspect of the question: “Surely the birth of the third person in line to the throne can only be a good thing?” was what it implied about the state of British democracy. Are we so disillusioned with our democracy, and those who we elect to represent us, that we are ready to walk away from the ballot box and sell our souls and our labour for an idea that is the very antithesis of explicit rule by the people?
The idea of monarchy presents a contradictory picture of human nature. It implies that those elected can be nothing more than mere “common” human beings, while those in the royal line, those appointed to the ultimate non-elected and honorific roles, are gracious and noble, happy and glorious, virtuous and victorious – and with a longevity of carefully constructed and cultured lives to permit the expression of these personal and professional characteristics. It suggests that we can aspire to be only the second-class subjects of a monarch rather than the first-class citizens of a nation-state.
The monarchy is supposed to be an example to us all. Implied in this exemplary royal performance is that members of the extended royal family model what is to be expected of the “citizen class” of the nation. A great deal of emphasis is placed on the concept, the ideal, of “duty”.
Whether we speak of the “big society” or simple citizenship it seems that the ordinary people of the nation are expected to do their duty and to be personally satisfied with doing so, with, perhaps, the incentive of receiving a royal honour on such occasions as the celebration of the reigning monarch’s birthday. Yet this idealism is offset by the fact that the roles and duties of the royals seem to be defined and transacted against a background of wealth, privilege and subtle political manoeuvring – hardly the situation-in-life of ordinary people!
It is heartening to consider, however, that what is described above paves the way for the expression and promotion of democratic discontent.
The existence of the British monarchy carries with it the message that our hard fought democracy and its values may be considered as simply not worth fighting for or have the outcomes expected. The existence of the British monarchy and its staunchest supporters and beneficiaries, endeavours to persuade us that our individual and collective lives are enhanced by the retention of and dependence on those whom history has privileged and empowered to rule – directly or otherwise, by accident or design. We tend to forget, however, that we have a choice in the matter.
Whilst it is not unusual to suspect elected Members of Parliament of fraudulent expense claims and other forms of self-aggrandisement, we seem to consider that occupants of and heirs to the throne – with suspect tax arrangements and a history of lobbying of Parliament – are assumed to be above such illicit practices. Expense anomalies for MPs are pounced on, whilst public expenditure on private royal transportation and some royal wedding expenses, including the cost of excessive amounts of security, not to mention the exorbitant and spiralling cost of maintaining a monarchical system, are shrugged off.
This system speaks ill of human possibility and counts against the continuation of an outdated and undemocratic monarchical system.
It is accepted that all people are corruptible – the high and the mighty, the meek and the lowly, those elected and the unelected. But integrity and freedom are worth fighting for. As a great man once said “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”. Vigilance and action are required for the realization of a genuine democracy, one that  includes the eradication of the system of inherited wealth, privilege and social esteem known as monarchy – and a “royal family” as its constitutional exemplars.
Is every child born equal? Or, are there some more equal than others? If so, then why? Surely, it remains true and self-evident, that all human beings are born equal and should be treated as such.
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A right-royal carve-up

An appearance on Desert Island Discs is a sure sign that a personality has indeed arrived at the forefront of public perception. Earlier this year, a former pupil of the Northampton School for Boys, Matt Smith, made such an appearance on the programme. During the programme Matt Smith informed the listening audience that he turned to acting after realizing that, because of suffering a physical injury, a career in professional football was not personally attainable.
I am uncertain as to what kind of football player Matt Smith would have developed into – perhaps an imposing central defender. However, there is no doubt that he has become an actor of real stature, as evidenced by his role as a reincarnate Dr Who and a stately performance as Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, in the television series of The Crown.
My daughter attended the same school and was in the same year/class as Matt Smith. Both studied drama as Sixth Form students. They acted together in several school productions (the play Murder in the Cathedral comes to mind) and, whilst I would admit to some personal bias, my daughter suffered little by comparison. However, even as a sixth form secondary school student, Matt Smith was an exceptional teenage performer and he has gone on to be an excellent adult actor.
But what is the nature of the world he now lives in – away from the publicity that actors such as he attracts? To what extent does acting become a substitute for real life? What world do actors (male and female) actually inhabit? Is there the danger that the world in which they act the role of someone else starts to become their actual world? Do changes of character precede changes in personality?
Is the world of an actor similar to the world of a “royal” personage – a world of seeming make believe and virtual reality, despite the vain-glorious attempts by some royals to appear to make their lives relevant to the population at large. It is reported that the present line of young royals, the offspring of Charles Windsor and Diane Spencer, along with their partners, wish to make the British royals more modern, more “ordinary” and down to earth.
This is hard to believe after watching the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, awkwardly curtsey when being presented recently to Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge. Both were representing the UK at a World War 1 commemoration ceremony in France. They were on the same side! The practice of offering this form of obeisance to royalty is surely one of the first things that should be crossed-off the younger royals’ modernizing wish-list.
It is probably advisable, however, to suggest that one should refrain from holding one’s breath whilst waiting for this change to take place.
After all, not everyone, or even the majority, has the audacity of the former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating, to not only not bow when being introduced to Elizabeth Windsor, but also had the temerity to place his hand on her majesty’s back when he introduced her to others in a line-up of the good and the great down-under.
What is this strange aspect of democracy that tolerates a continuing monarchy that strives to maintain its existence alongside extremes of finance, privilege and social position?
I am convinced that the royals, from Elizabeth Windsor down to the least of their kind, see themselves as having a legitimate, even necessary, place in modern society, despite the reality that, rather than being the so-called “jewels in the crown of British society”, they are in fact an anachronistic throw-back to a previous age of deference, privilege and class inequality.
Perhaps the British royals, for whatever reasons, are seen in the same light as are actors of stage, screen, or whatever – as celebrities to which many common people wish to aspire? If this is the case, then we are responsible for our own fantasy worlds which lead to our eventual demise and humiliation, as individuals and as a nation.
Surely we are required to abjure “false consciousness”, to leave behind the confined cloisters of the “school” (be it preparatory or the Sixth Form) and join the adult – the mature – world, a world in which persons are afforded decency and respect not because of their juvenile attainments, historical background, societal standing, or self-professed importance, but because of their humanity, humility and integrity.
Further, the abdication of the British “royal line” is a necessary step towards the realization of a genuine British democracy and all that goes with it – a reclaiming of the real world and a more mature understanding of what and how society should be?
Insofar as the plethora of movies and TV series assist in making the British (and wider) audience aware of the need for a deeper and more meaningful understanding and realization of this reclamation, then they may have a legitimate role, as a practical persuader – a self-mirror, in the viewing habits of the masses. They can be seen as one stimulus amongst many effecting this realization.
The school, especially those educational institutions of the State that are void of private self-importance, class and financial influence and affluence, is a stage – of preparation, learning, social adjustment and human integration – that can enable young people to separate the real from the virtual, the role and function of the many and from the few, and the value of the wealth of the nation from that of a privileged minority.
However, the purpose of this multi-media insight into the lives of the monarchical menagerie (seen most appositely in the recent television series The Windsors) may be rather more otherwise, even sinister, in its intent.
It may be that the barrage of historical movies, television series and popular literature serve the purpose of inuring the public through a process of constantly thrusting the royals into their faces. They serve to promote both the traditional roles and contemporary disguises of the royals in order to maintain their privileged and un-earned status in society – the continuation of the Windsor’s false consciousness.
In the process, the “royal family”, far from disparaging the multiplicity of programmes featuring their kind, no doubt find satisfaction, perhaps even mirth, in the fact that the combined talents of the British acting fraternity – from Matt Smith to Colin Firth, from Helen Mirren to Claire Foy – unwittingly or otherwise, aid and abet this right-royal carve-up.


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There is another way

Professor Stephen Haseler died in July, 2017 (see this blog’s tribute to him: The man defined his work, 18 August, 2017). Dr Haseler was a prolific author, writing on issues of law, politics and political parties, international relations, democracy, economics and inequality, powerful and wealthy elites, and, increasingly in his later years, the UK’s role in the European Community. A year on and he is still remembered and appreciated by many.
Prior to his death, Stephen Haseler was the Director of the Global Policy Institute at the London Metropolitan University. He was a social democrat and a republican. Professor Haseler’s literary output was impressive, as was the content of his lectures. The extent of his knowledge is clearly visible in the book under present review, Meltdown UK: There is Another Way (2010).
The contents of this book had their precedents in Stephen Haseler’s previous two publications, The Super-Rich (2001) and Meltdown (2008). In many ways, these two books were prescient warnings of what was to come. The central focus of the book under review, therefore, is the great financial crash of 2007-8, an event that had world-changing implications for the British nation – and others.
Professor Haseler tells the story of “how Britain’s leaders – from Thatcher to Blair – through arrogance and recklessness, turned Britain into an ‘island experiment’ for global finance and ‘market madness’. It all came crashing down in the great banking crisis (of 2007-08) – and we are now paying the price.” Stephen Haseler considers that the UK was the laboratory for the whole global neoliberal revolution.
Despite government action in 2008 following the Wall Street crash, emerging changes in the financial system – including bail-outs, part-nationalization, initial stimulus packages – though necessary at that time, have not worked. Banks remain largely unreformed and recovery is proving to be elusive, even to the extent that, at the time of the publication of the book (2010), the West stood on the brink of another, the ‘double-dip’, recession – a consequence of the fact that the 2008 measures did not break sufficiently with the thinking of the governing market consensus at the time.
Professor Haseler’s view, argued in the main body of the book, is that Britain’s contemporary economy is unbalanced, service-based, financialized and highly globalized. The UK is a low-tax-haven, servicing off-shore economies. Further, and precariously, Britain’s political and financial class is ill-prepared to deal with the new and oncoming crisis.
The argument of the book leads from the unbounded power of the City of London, through the route of free trade and global capital, to the attractions of these directions to the British political classes, especially the Conservative Margaret Thatcher and New Labour’s Tony Blair. As Professor Haseler views it, following the great financial crash of 2007-8, the British faced a crisis in jobs, disastrous financial debts, a broken British capitalism, and a ‘socially useless system’.
In a sobering conclusion to the book, “Can Britain make it? Little England in a dangerous world”, Stephen Haseler indicates that the end result of all of this is that “the UK would enter a self-defeating and self-lacerating downward spiral with higher and higher unemployment, threadbare welfare services, dashed expectations and low morale – possibly even social conflict”.
Generally speaking, Stephen Haseler’s predictions are quite accurate, even if a possible exception can be made for ‘higher and higher unemployment’. He suggests a bundle of remedies for the situation.
The British government should use public spending in order to eventually eradicate national debt, even if this presented a financial threat to British public life. The solution to this threat would be to re-engage, re-embrace, social democracy – rejecting the neo-liberal model of economic management – with the objectives of job priority, growth and the extension of wealth in the West. This will require a stronger state that grapples with inequality, as well as radical democratic reform and, as expected of a strongly pro-European, deeper European coordination.
It is also a reforming movement that will need to look at issues involving the continued existence of the British monarchy, the state financing of public (independent) schools, and the system of elections and methods of governance in the UK.
Indeed, Stephen Haseler was a convinced European and passionately believed that the UK leaving the European Union would be a huge mistake. Sadly, he did not live long enough to experience the current debate over Brexit – a debate he would have relished. It is my personal belief that Stephen Haseler was of the view that the UK would eventually hold another referendum on the Brexit question – a second referendum that would overturn the result of the first.
Furthermore, Professor Haseler was convinced that Wall Street and the City of London are no longer in the position where they can lecture on financial management. Both seem to be oblivious to the damage they have caused, and are still causing, to the world economy – the UK including. They should make way for a new course to be charted and followed.
A central contention of this book is that the UK’s economic crisis is the result of the obsession of Britain’s elites with a ‘global role’. Allied to market extremism this becomes a ‘pathology’. There are those within the institutions of the British establishment who still harbour imperialistic illusions. These illusions have not diminished during the thirty year period, under the successive leaderships of Thatcher, Major and Blair, a period of increasing British weakness and vulnerability.
This is a book that clears away the haze of those years. It is a book that shows there is, indeed, another away. It is a book that deserves to be read.



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So much, to so few, for so little

The breaking news headline stated that, “A spokesperson for Kensington Palace says the christening of Prince Louis of Cambridge by the Archbishop of Canterbury will take place on Monday, July 9, at the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace in London”. The public might think that this is a quite straightforward news announcement. Yet, take a closer look at the text of the announcement.
A spokesperson for Kensington Palace says…” The announcement is by an anonymous spokesperson for a family that is expected to be known by its exclusive place of abode!
 “…the christening of Prince Louis of Cambridge…”  A religious ritual is to be performed on a ‘princely person’ who carries no political or citizenship rights for the city of Cambridge or its county, that person being the privileged offspring of a family that has self-inferred and inherited titles, property, wealth and religious significance!
 “…by the Archbishop of Canterbury…” The religious ritual is to be sanctified by the highest prelate of the Established (Christian) Church in the kingdom, an institution and a ritual that carries little significance for the majority of the constantly diminishing number of Christians in the UK and no significance for religious people of non-Christian persuasion! Moreover, it is the same archbishop who places the crown on the head of the monarch at a coronation ceremony – on behalf and with the assumed authority of the God of the Church of England and not with the formal consent of the people of the British nation state!!
“…will take place on Monday, July 9, at the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace in London”. Once again an exclusive place of abode, yet another palace, of the same family is mentioned in the despatch – this time focusing on a religious place of prayer given a royal name and significance. So too, the location of the City of London ensures that this whole (and one might say ‘holy’) announcement is situated most firmly in the centre of British privilege, power and possession.
So, well into the 21st century, the electronic media is doing the work of the ancient town crier, the royal scribes and scripts, in announcing to the world the affairs of the British monarchy. With this goes the assumption that the news will be listened to with the heightened expectation of a nationally important event and, perhaps most obviously and frighteningly, such a state of affairs will be accepted as the norm for and by the family in question.
The very means and method of this announcement are intended to be uncritically heard by the masses (after all, everyone loves to hear a celebrity ‘baby story’, don’t they?). So too, one of the unspoken assumptions behind such announcements is that the ‘masses’ are still regarded, by implication if not public pronouncement, as subjects of a monarch and not as citizens of a nation.
What is worrying about announcements of this kind, not to mention the increasing numbers and wide variety of media articles and programmes now being produced for public consumption, is the fact that little seems to be happening to counteract the royalist propaganda for which these announcements, articles and programmes effectively serve the purposes. Whether by design or opportunity, there is little by way of information, interviews, articles or actions that permit the counter-views to be presented.
Where is the republican voice? Where is the presentation of the non-Christian, or non-religious, perspective? Where is the challenge to a secretive and selective establishment? Where is the protest of ordinary people who continue to live under the subtle yolk of anachronistic cultural, religious, social and political perspectives and practices? Where is the realization that the continuing existence of a monarchy in the United Kingdom is part of the problem and not part of the answer?
What other nation on earth continues to parade its privileged class in the manner that is exercized by those who control and manipulate the strings of the British state? What other nations on earth, apart from those controlled by oil-rich, royalist dictatorships (most of which are usually void of the system of human rights we are meant by law to enjoy in the UK), permit their affairs of state to be carried out by unelected or unsanctioned officials? What other nation on earth gives so much, to so few, for so little?
It is hard to resist the notion that the manner of the recent announcement about the christening service for the latest member of the Windsor dynasty is just another example of how the controlling elite in the UK goes about its business.
The British monarchy is in dire need of democratization. This is also true of other aspects of the elite in British society. Examples of the foregoing would include the existence and functioning of the unelected House of Lords; the voting system for the House of Commons; the lack of a proper federally entrenched system of national, regional and local government; and the separation of Church and State.
The former Emeritus Professor and Director of the Global Policy Institute at London Metropolitan University, Stephen Haseler, seriously calls into question the existence and function of what he has called the ‘ancien regime’. This includes
(a)  the Monarchy;
(b)  the Established Church of England, of which the monarch is the head – along with being the head of the political state;
(c)  a secretive Privy Council – a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign of the United Kingdom (note: the reference is to the sovereignty of the monarch, not the sovereignty of the British people through Parliament!);
(d)  the Royal Prerogative – the undemocratic royal powers of the Crown within the executive process of British politics.
The foregoing are weighty matters and a reader might wonder at the link between them and an announcement of a christening service for the latest addition to the British ‘royal family’ – such as that with which this article commenced. A few moments of critical reflection, however, and the link may become less tenuous and more evident than at first thought.
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More myth-busting

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!
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
(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)


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In my previous article (120: No More Faith Schools) I argued that, in a contemporary multi-cultural society, it is necessary to have a secular education system. There is no place for a state-supported system of faith schools. Such schools are discriminatory, divisive, controlling and a wrongful use of public money.
Religion has a definite role and function in public education, but not one based on a confessional and/or evangelical approach that cedes control of the system to religious institutions and sacerdotal influence.
Earlier this year the National Secular Society (NSS) launched its campaign called No More Faith Schools. The objective of this campaign is to petition for an inclusive education system – an education system that is free from religious discrimination and proselytization. The campaign recognizes that the influence of religious groups on state education urgently needs to be rolled back.
Part of the NSS campaign is to expose some of the myths surrounding faith schools and their operation in the UK.
In this article I wish to mention five of ten such myths and, as with all myths, religious or otherwise, to expose their lack of reality and basis in fact. In a subsequent article I will complete the list of ten myths with a further five
(In what follows, I acknowledge the use of material from the NSS’s campaign).
MYTH 1: “Faith schools give parents greater choice”. The reality is that faith schools actually restrict choice for many parents.
The proliferation of faith schools serves to restrict choice for parents who do not want a faith-based education for their children, or who do not share the religion of their local school. In some parts of the country, parents are left with little other option but to send their child to a school with a religious ethos.
Though religious organisations want more faith schools, most parents and the general public just want good local schools and acceptable academic standards – very few choose faith schools for their religious characteristic.
On the other hand, some families who may be desperate for their child to attend a religious school (usually Church of England), sometimes lie about their faith, attend church, or even have their child baptised into the faith of the school, in order to increase their chances of getting in. In this way, religious selection in faith schools unfairly limits parental choice.
Surveys have shown that the vast majority of voters, including those from every religion surveyed, disagree with religious selection in school admissions.
Therefore, a move towards an inclusive and secular education system would mean no child would be discriminated against on account of their parents’ religion or belief, and that all schools would be equally appropriate for parents of all faith backgrounds, or none.
MYTH 2: “Faith schools achieve better results”. The evidence does not support this contention.
There is nothing magical about a ‘faith ethos’ when it comes to academic success. Where church schools do achieve marginally better results it is usually down to faith-based selection – this also leads to social selection which unfairly benefits middle class and better-off parents.
Research published in 2016 by the Education Policy Institute found that after adjusting for “disadvantage, prior attainment and ethnicity,” pupils in primary schools with a faith ethos “seem to do little or no better than in non-faith schools”. Pupils in secondary schools with a faith ethos record only “small average gains” over non-faith schools or “just one-seventh of a grade higher” in GCSE results.
Various bodies have published research which shows that schools with a faith ethos, whilst showing minute academic gains, came with a risk “of increased social segregation”, “admit fewer pupils from poor backgrounds than the average non faith school”, and operate extremely convoluted admissions procedures that enable them “to select their pupils from more affluent backgrounds than non-faith schools.”
One body of research found that the influence of religion on education may even be detrimental to some results, that is, “excess time spent on religion in schools harmed progression in other subjects – including maths and science”.
MYTH 3: “Faith schools are better at teaching children morals”. Against this bland assumption it needs to be emphatically asserted that the teaching of basic morals is not solely the domain of faith schools.
All schools teach children such basic values as honesty; integrity; compassion; tolerance and many others. There is no evidence that faith schools do it better. All maintained schools in the UK have to promote basic human values in education (the spiritual, moral, social and cultural values and development of all pupils).
So too, all schools must actively promote the values of “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs”. Such values are often mistaken as “Christian values”. This is a mistaken notion, as is the fact that “non-Christian” values – therefore persons – are inferior. Church school inspections are often guilty of promoting this dichotomy.
Education about ethics and morality in schools should be based around the universal principles of reason, empathy and the concept of fundamental human rights, rather than forced through the lenses of religious teachings.
MYTH 4: “Faith schools are necessary to protect parents’ religious freedom”. The state has a duty to provide schools and to respect parents’ religious freedom, but the case law is clear that this doesn’t create a duty for the state to provide faith schools.
Religious institutions cater for the variety of family religions. Schools cater for education, not sectarianism. All state schools should be open, inclusive and equally welcoming to all children whatever their religion and belief backgrounds. This is not to be anti-religious. Parents may wish for but do not have a right for the state to raise their child according to religious tradition – nor to cover the cost of doing so.
Religion and belief communities exist to promote their worldviews, schools don’t. Faith schools undermine many parents’ ability to raise their children in accordance with their religion/belief.
It’s also a mistake to assume that religious people necessarily want faith schools. Many people of faith are opposed to religious discrimination. They don’t see faith inculcation as the state’s role, or have other reasons for supporting inclusive schools.
People live out their religion or belief without the need for faith-hospitals, faith job-centres, faith-transport systems or other faith based/divided public services. Why faith schools? An inclusive school would be secular, that is, it would neither be specifically religious or atheist; it would fulfil the educational requirements of all children as individuals.
A secular education system is perfectly consistent with protecting individuals’ religious freedom.
MYTH 5: “Faith schools don’t do any harm – why not let them just be?” On the contrary, faith schools build division into society and undermine religious freedoms. The harms vary depending on how aggressively they push their religious ethos.
Research has shown that faith schools have a negative impact on social cohesion, foster the segregation of children on social, ethnic and religious lines, and are antithetical to freedom and equality.
Organising children and young people’s education around religious identities is the worst possible response to Britain’s growing religious diversity. Schools are our golden opportunity to foster understanding and tolerance amongst tomorrow’s generation. It is utterly misguided to squander this opportunity by continuing to fund and promote faith-based education.
Of course there is a range of faith schools and some are more harmful than others, especially those that push their religious ethos very aggressively, sinisterly seeking to shield children from secular knowledge and actively turning pupils against the society in which they will grow up.
Faith schools propagating the idea that religious identity/inculcation is a valid purpose of education, including the traditional CofE faith schools that are seen as more of a ‘light touch’, actually promote and validate intolerant attitudes elsewhere in society.
Legitimizing the idea of organising state education around religious identity/inculcation, opens the doors for the worst aspects of faith schools and are directly responsible for creating a ghettoised education system.
Myths 6-10: to be continued…
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