Sunday, October 15, 2006

Government Should Not Interfere Unnecessarily in Faith Schools

ConservativeHome reports via the BBC... "All new religious schools could have to offer at least 25% of their classroom places to "non-believing" children, the BBC has learned. Education Secretary Alan Johnson believes the move could reduce religious and racial tension. His plans stipulate that where there is "strong local opposition" to the policy, councils would need government consent before implementing the quota. A Conservative Party spokesman said they welcomed the proposals."

I find this a terribly difficult issue. We talked about it with Ann Widdecombe on Vox Politix on Thursday. She and my co-presenter Zoe-Anne Phillips almost came to blows about it. I am not religious, but I do believe in religious freedom. Religious freedom of expression is coming under attack from all quarters at the moment, sometimes understandably, sometimes not. The case of the BA employee who was suspended for wearing a crucifix is especially worrying. Britain is still a Christian country, whether some like it or not. BA say they suspended the lady for wearing jewellery. For Christians, wearing a crucifix is just as important to them as wearing a turban is to Sikhs. I doubt very much whether BA would suspend a sikh for wearing a turban.

Faith schools are a good thing as long as they teach children that there are indeed other religions. Most faith schools accept children from denominations other than their own. They don't need to be required by Government to do so. School admissions should not be the concern of central government bureaucracy. I'm sorry my own Party seem to be welcoming this initiative. They shouldn't. I thought we were supposed to be trusting education professionals to do their jobs without goverment interference.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, Iain.

Wearing a cross is in no way comparable to desire to wear a veil or turban.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I follow your point Iain. Independent faith schools are presumably free to follow whatever admissions policies they prefer - I don't think it is unreasonable to ask state-funded voluntary-aided schools to admit a minority of non-believers in the interests of community cohesion. Many of the best faith schools are hubs of the community and their ethos and teaching attracts pupils and parents of many different faiths (or none) anyway.

Salford City Council wants to close a Roman Catholic secondary school in my ward, and education bosses have claimed that there are "not enough Catholic pupils" to justify keeping the school open. Currently that school's non-Catholic population is about 25% - exactly what the (Labour) Government is suggesting is the optimum amount. Pure hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...

Faith schools are a good thing as long as they teach children that there are indeed other religions

Really? Are Islamic schools a "good thing" in your book? What is the likelihood of such schools instilling "understanding" of other religions? Or indeed admitting anyone other than Muslim children? What a confused post, Iain. I think you need to think it out again.

Iain Dale said...

Anonymous at 11.41 - there is a differnece between intrerfering with admissions and setting rules on the curriculum.

Anonymous said...

BA claim they don't allow jewellery wearing for their liveried staff. Wearing a tiny cross - it was just a little larger than the wearer's thumbnail - is regarded by BA as "jewellery", yet strangely, a very much weightier and more noticeable, because it slides up and down their wrists, Sikh's steel bangle is not? How so?

Personally, I don't mind being served onboard by someone wearing a steel bangle (a lot of Sikhs are very easy on the eye), but I would be alarmed to be served by someone whose face I couldn't see (and thus read) and wouldn't trust any announcements they made in an emergency because I wouldn't be able to judge their expression. I'd also be aware that all this facial drapery could get tangled up in rescue efforts. No thanks.

As to the notion that Christian, Jewish or Hindu parents would willingly send their children to a school which teaches a primitive violent cult, and shrouds their female teaching staff and female students in Hallowe'en outfits too amusing.

I also don't forecast islamic parents queuing up to send their children to Hindu schools (if such exist) or Jewish schools. Not. Going. To. Happen.

Alan Johnson, I like you and find you very personable and sensible, as a rule, but much more of this and I'll begin to hae ma doots.

I agree with Iain.

Anonymous said...

Alan Johnson, in a previous Government incarnation, appears to have been behind the new equality regulations which, among many other things, would compel all secondary schools in Britain, including faith schools, to promote homosexual sexual acts on an equal footing to the conjugal love of married heterosexuals.

This is not going to reduce racial or religious tension. To put it politely.

Anonymous said...

We should get rid of faith schools completely. Religion is for home/church, schools are for education. Let us have schools representative of the areas in which they are placed, not of the religious convictions of the parents of those who attend.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I dunno. I just don't see Christian (by far the major faith of these islands and the belief that has guided the development of our democracy), Jewish, Sikh and Hindu parents queued up round the block to get their child admitted to a violent propaganda academy.

ian said...

If my taxes are paying for a school, I'd want my children to have an equal right to attend it.

Croydonian said...

Note the wording - '/offer/ places'.

Back in the real world, how many secular or otherwise non-Islamic parents are going to be eager to send their progency to Cat Stevens' place in North London for example? Or would gentile parents wish to send their offspring to the JFS (also in North London)?

Anonymous said...

Please stop being so typicaly middle class grammar school boy in your attitude, you can do better then that. You know in your heart that Ann is right as she is also right about everything else. There is no place in a Liberal democracy for any state controll of religion. I know you have the intelligent to realise this, so stop being so WISHY WASHY.

Anything gos as long as it does not evade simple and common sense minimalist laws. The vail must be made ilegel in certain public instances, for security and practical reasons only. Incitement to violent is against the law, but our government have been very slow to enforce the already exsisting regulations, for party political reasons.

Every thing else regarding religion is not the job of governments to even discuss. SIMPLE as that.

Anonymous said...

The whole Straw inspired Burka story has been peculiar from the start. When I saw it I thought a transparent attempt of an outrider to chase down stray working class votes after having betrayed then for ten years . People seem to be taking it at face value but nonetheless talking about the wrong things . The issue with the Burka is not about religious freedom its about cultural context and the meaning it gives to symbols. Sounds like baloney I know but think of this . Suppose I say I have a religion that believes all black people are better of dead .It is entirely plausible that such a religion should exist and I `m sure others can think of near equivalents. Now can I turn up at school with a tee shirt that proclaims the basic tenets of my “faith “. Clearly not . In our culture the fact this is religious is irrelevant it is politically and morally offensive in every way.

So ultimately the label religion is not incedental . Politically ,is the wearing of a burka something we might find offensive in to our culture. Perhaps yes . It says women are to be subjugated . Sex is evil and its mostly the fault of women. It also gives a political message of support for Islamic extremism and terrorism . Teaching at a catholic school in a Orange order attire ? Or a Jewish school wearing a swastika ?To what extent are these example similar or different ? To what extent can we tolerate inflammatory political statements counter to Liberal Western democracy especially in a position of trust with children.
I think it is over the line but my main point is that this dress is a symbol which is a deliberate aggressive assault on our values. It is an attack we can either live with or not and these are the terms by which we can decide.

For reasons mentioned above I do not for one second believe Jack Straw cares one way or another.
Verity is obviously right to point out the practical unworkable ness of the ideas for schools and this reassures me that I am right about the shallow political motivation Involved.

Finally Iain, by my thinking ,is missing the point somewhat by over emphasising the religion component.

I have it just right ( like the little bear`s porridge)

Gracchi said...

Iain do you think that Faith schools which have only one catchment religion foster the kind of mixing of religions that produces real tolerance. Strikes me that what they might do is further a kind of ghettoising within the inner cities which especially in the north has produced horrible consequences say in Bradford recently. Might schools say become the locus of community conflict like housing.

Anonymous said...

Faith schools are all about perpetuating the myth that there is a god. If the cat ever really got out of the bag the extraordinarily wealthy churches all over the world would have a serious problem on their hands. It's just another big business...

Anonymous said...

John Travis is spot on. said...

I can see what you say, the whole concept of a faith school gets to me

Johnny Norfolk said...

I think all state schools should be non religious. They should be self funding (private)if they wish to exclude people on ground of religion.

Anonymous said...


As you know I have posted about this myself. I think that a % quota is a fair, reasonable and just proposal. We can have a bun-fight over the figures (25% or 10% or whatever) the real issue is the message such a move will send out. The C of E will move this way voluntarily - good for them. It would be a much welcomed move if other faith groups could do the same.

Paul Evans said...

The Sikh dress is proscribed at the very core of the faith, unlike either the veil in Islam (which is a cultural interpretation) or the wearing of the crucifix in Christianity.

Anonymous said...

Religious indoctrination has no place in schools. What if I wanted to setup a Marxist school that would teach (or should that be 'preach') the pupils about the evils of capitalism and decadent western societies? Should that be permitted?

Indoctrinating pupils in Marxist theory at the expense of a rounded education is not desirable. Neither is indoctrinating pupils to believe in superstitions (whether they are 'christian','jewish, 'hindu' or 'muslim' superstitions), rather than rational thought.

Anonymous said...

If this measure is worth doing, it should be done properly.

ALL faith schools should be made to allocate 25% to non-faith children. Give them 5 years to comply; otherwise they must become general schools.

Buenaventura Durruti said...

If they want state funding ... if not then they should be allowed whatever entry and curriclum requirements that are legal

Reactionary Snob said...


I think you are wrong here. It's important that independent faith schools can teach as they wish, but state-funded bigotry should not be tolerated. I've posted about the gay rights legislation on my blog - what is the point in equal rights legislation if those who do not comply already do not have to comply? In my eyes, Kelly is a bigot and is exactly who we shouldn't have in charge of 'countering religious extremism'.


The Daily Pundit said...

Ban the lot of them - all religions. They're not worth the trouble. Amen.

strapworld said...

I went to a school in Prestwich, Lancashire where many of my fellow pupils were Jewish.

In Middlesbrough I attended a CofE school which was a few hundred yards from the Roman Catholic school. One ran the gauntlet if you found yourself in a smaller 'group' than those going to the Catholic school, Obviously it happened to Catholic scholars as well.

Faith schools divide and do not unite.Let us stop this mess now and ban all faith schools. insist on school uniforms, ensure there are no deviations to the National uniform!

I saw the National Teachers Awards yesterday and was extremely impressed by the dedication shown by all.

Anonymous said...

A faith school is a kind of abuse as it is an imposition of the irrational beliefs of the parents and school on the child, a child who is in no position to make up his or her own mind about any of them. Teach ethical behaviour by all means but please don't link it to a religion. There is nothing wrong with rational moral teaching. Keep the heaven /hell /miracles /meteorites /statues /crystals /pentagrams at home or church.

Martin Scott has it right - would a Marxist school be allowed at all? So why allow any other kind of indoctrination in, what, after all, is a state regulated business, funded or not.

The arbitrary 25% quota is a distraction.

The reason faith schools (particularly CofE) are popular is less to do with the faith itself, more to do with the discipline and parental support that they attract.

Given a faith school is often selection by the class of the parents - which is pretty divisive - why not change them to selection by the ability of the child instead? It would do rather more for social mobility.

The Druid said...

Faith schools are bad news period. Look at Northern Ireland if you want to see where this is leading. Faith schools are a motor for segregation, sectarianism and then violence. With the experiences of Northern Ireland you'd think we'd realise this. Evidently not. Wake up!

The state should be neutral in matters of religion. And that means in state schools no endorsement of religions. Let parents do that. And if they like they can pay for religious education at private schools. Fine. Though I'd regulate those pretty heavily.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who knows Northern Ireland or the West of Scotland knows for certain that the notion that faith schools are in any way a good idea is pure nonsense.

They should have been banished from the spectrum of pulically-financed education years ago: the only reason they were not was that 150 years ago when the government stated to take responsibility for education, the vast majority of existing schools were church schools.

It's time for us to move forward from 1850 into the 21st century. No religious state-funded schools!

Ralph Lucas said...

I agree with ian (as opposed to Iain) - if we are paying for a school then we should have a chance to send our children to it. The point surely, Iain, is that we should favour the rights of individuals over the rights of institutions.

I also see the point of doing our best to avoid apartheid - and we know from Northern Ireland and Glasgow that that's where we are headed if we're not careful.

The government's proposals apply only to new state schools - well, at least it's a first step. Lord Baker and I would have applied such strictures to existing schools too.

Anonymous said...

Seems to be a strong anti-religious strand here. If you leave religion at home/school, the vast majority of children will never be exposed to it and, if they ever discover it, it is more likely to be of an extremist variety unrelated to normal life. All children will also continue to be as shockingly ignorant about religion as most children educated in State secular schools are now. (I mean shocking from a cultural viewpoint, not that they may not be believers). So by leaving it out, you are effectively promoting secularism everywhere, not just at school.

On the other hand, the 25% solution suggested is a perfectly reasonable response in return for State funding. You can't force the places to be taken up, but they can be offered and, if the school is good, whatever its religion, they will be taken up. Wouldn't it be rather fine for more non-Muslims to gain a greater understanding of Islam, and vice versa, by such an arrangement?

Incidentally, I should think it is rare indeed for any child to have been indoctrinated (i.e. become religious) from attending a school alone. What it does do is provide the tools if religious feelings are present, or later emerge.

Anonymous said...

Casual Observer - can you let us have your proof that there is no God, please? I'd be interested in your evidence.

Dynamite said: "The Sikh dress is proscribed at the very core of the faith>" Did you mean "prescribed" or did you really mean that Sikh dress is outside the law and/or forbidden?

Gary Powell writes that the veil should be forbidden in certain circumstances. I agree. It should be against the law to step outside your own door onto a public street with your face covered. The veil is aggressive and is intended, when worn in the West, to be threatening. It is also a statement that the wearer has no intention of behaving by societal norms.

In addition, it allows these women to be violent to other women anonymously. I have written before that these blobs shrouded in draperies of push normal women off the kerb, jab their elbows into women's ribs, push them in the back, bar them with their arm from walking through a door before the islamic blob. (Dhimmis aren't supposed to preceed an islamic, you see.) Men, of course, do not experience this aggression, because these islamic women can't touch any man outside their families.

Yesterday, Istanbul Tory, who lives in Turkey, agreed and said the aggression of veil wearers is well-recognised and commented upon in Turkey. These women are not being modest, they are making a shrieking statement: "I hate you and your society. You're not good enough for me."

They are also saying, "I can watch you, but you cannot see me. That gives me the advantage." They are nasty pieces of work and must be outlawed in public places.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:36pm:

Gee, that explains the collapse of the Christian religion in America and why it's so flourishing here...

Get real!

The actual effect is the polar opposite of what you imagine. State religion in the form of established churches, and state religious education in the form of state religious schools, drives people away from religion in any meaningful sense, not to it.

Instead, it just gives them a banner to fight the people who went to the other faith school under. Sometimes, as in Glasgow, we're luck and it just takes the form of the Old Firm, Rangers v Celtic. In Northern Ireland, it has taken the form of 30 years of the Trouble, which was a murderous civil war in all by name.

That's what it REALLY does.

Anonymous said...

Trust in Allah, but tie your camels.

I like the idea of not having people of any goup stew in their own juice, but I'm opposed to make children take on religous garb of the fatih school they visit.

Ideally, there would be no faith schools at all, but schools that cater in 3-4 tiers to the ability of children.

Anonymous said...

To 2br02b

I said in Anon 1.36pm that if schools are purely secular, then religion

"is more likely to be of an extremist variety unrelated to normal life".

That's what happens in the case of quite a lot of evangelical Christians in the US, I would argue. Because their faith is not the subject of debate and examination in an academic context, they are prey to all sorts of nonsense - such as the belief that the Bible was written in English.

If Christianity is collapsing here it is not because of Church schools. The majority here go to secular schools where religion is in practice as much excluded as it is in the US - the difference being that there are many more practicing Christian parents there. But I agree with your point to the extent that no school can operate as a brainwashing institution that guarantees the production of little Christians - that should be a comfort to the militant aetheists on here (and to me also).

This debate started on the point of 25% open places, which are designed precisely to address your later point about sectarianism in Liverpool and Belfast. It would be more effective than making all schools secular as in such cities there are Protestant and RC dominated areas so the 25% point might well ensure more mixing than secular schools closely related to local catchment areas. I accept that the 75/25 faith school is a different concept from what has existed historically and applaud the dear old CofE for leading the way.

Anonymous said...

anonymous, 1.36.

Schools should teach about religion(s) but in my opinion should not be of a particular faith (which implies worship at the school).

Your implication of ignorance of the subject of religion being bad is fair enough. However, I don't think non-faith schools have a monopoly in this regard.

The history of, and in, the Bible is extremely interesting but do Catholic schools teach everything about where it came from and the very human people who wrote it (and when)? Probably not. They teach their narrow interpretation of it, missing out the inconvenient bits.

Just like some faith schools in the US like to teach their own interpretation of science, missing out the inconvenient bits.

If the parents of schoolchildren want to teach their children about their own culture and take them to church (or equivalent) then that is no business of the state, but we should make sure that everyone has a chance to escape their own pigeonhole by giving them a true education.

How many children attending a Catholic school in Belfast decide that Catholicism isn't for them and that they would like to become Presbyterian? Not many. Indoctrination is definitely part of the deal. You might say that that is down to their parents but if they weren't separated at school they might have a chance to make their own decisions.

PS Verity - God is indeed a myth, if you go by the true definition of that word. If you have faith, it is that your particular myth is the true one.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that historically there has been an AWFUL lot of 'interference' in faith schools, particularly where the catholic Brothers have been involved. it's costing the Pope an arm and a leg from dublin to Boston Massecusetts via all points in between.

Anonymous said...

to one the brave "Anonymous" poster of 3:08 who wrote: "then religion more likely to be of an extremist variety unrelated to normal life. That's what happens in the case of quite a lot of evangelical Christians in the US."

You could say the same of voodoo. Yet voodoo practitioners are not typical worshippers in the US, and neither are evangelicals. They are a sub-group and, as in people who put their faith in voodoo, tend not to be educated or much given to deductive reasoning.

Although I'm not American, I love America and get sick of facile people grabbing a miniscule, very much minority, aspect of life there that they've heard about on the BBC, and using it to prove some point.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 3.08:

... all sorts of nonsense - such as the belief that the Bible was written in English.

One of my favourite moments was many years ago in Texas when I somehow found myself in a roadside diner miles from anywhere talking to another customer, an old guy, and we got onto the subject of the Bible.

Then he came out with the classic: "I don't see the point in all them newfangled versions. The King James Bible was good enough for Jesus himself to use, so it's good enough for me."

There's no answer to that.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3:08:

You say of a school system without faith schools, Because their faith is not the subject of debate and examination in an academic context, they are prey to all sorts of nonsense

Do you honestly imagine that faith schools "debate and examination [religion] in an academic context"? What planet do you inhabit? Surely the whole point of faith schools is exactly to prevent this very thing happening?

Anonymous said...


Although I'm not American,

Thanks for clearing that up, Verity. I was never sure, one way or the other.

Anonymous said...

the founding fathers of America had the right idea - in order for freedom of religion to exist, the state should not interfere. By keeping state and church separate, one guarantees religious freedom.

look the mess we've created over here - where we're in the ridiculous situation of a government FUNDING Muslim extremists with OUR tax money. (see Ruth Kelly's statements recently)

if there are to be faith schools , they can be private and self financing, with zero support from the taxpayer.

Anonymous said...

I am disturbed by the screams of BAN BAN BAN on here. Typical leftie (and right-wing collectivist) control freakery. If parents wish to sent their children to faith schools (or, yes, Marxist schools) they should be allowed to.

I agree with those who call for religious schools to be privatised (although most of them are owned by the C of E anyway) but would add that ALL schools should be privatised. Why should I be forced to pay for someone's child to have a secular education?

Anonymous said...

My Jewish friend is going to marry an Irish Catholic woman. Will they be sending their children to St. Cohens?

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