Friday, 18 October 2013

Is it time to get rid of faith schools?

There has been a lot in the news about the dire failure of the Al-Madinah free school in Derby, mostly debating whether this shows that the Conservative free school policy is flawed, or whether this is merely a blip, because more free schools are outstanding/good than are traditional schools. However there are some aspects of the problems there -  limited curriculum, segregation and inequality of treatment of boys and girls (and female teachers) - that could just as easily be put down to this being a faith school.

I really wonder if the time has come to ask if we should allow religious groups to dictate what goes on in a school at all. It's not that I oppose religious freedom, but I do wonder if it is appropriate for religions to be indoctrinating children at school, at the age when they are most likely to take religious instruction as fact, rather than question it and decide if it is appropriate for them as adults would do. If parents want to encourage their children into their faith themselves, that's one thing, but coming from an 'official' source like a school is very different.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that there aren't many excellent religious schools. We've all heard about parents turning up at church with the sole intention of getting little Hermione into the local faith school because the education there is so excellent. But I am not sure that this is a good enough reason to keep this strange religious/educational crossover going.

I haven't experienced this directly. I didn't go to a faith school, and neither did my children, but I have known people who have and certainly did receive something of an indoctrination while attending. This seems to be less of a problem with C of E schools in my indirect experience - but it certainly often seems to be the case with, for instance, Catholic and muslim schools.

Faith schools simply don't fit with modern British society, any more than we would expect to be looked after by nuns in a hospital. The trouble, I suspect, is that Labour and the Liberal Democrats don't want to change things to avoid offending ethnic minorities, while the Conservatives are worried about upsetting Jemima and Oliver's parents. But perhaps it is time that these anachronistic establishments were done away with.

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