Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Ideology Driving Faith Schools Initiative

On 13th September this year I wrote, with the help of the BHA, to my MP, Jeremy Quin, about the recent announcement on faith schools to abolish the 50% cap on entrance faith requirements:

Dear Jeremy Quin MP,

I am writing to you as a constituent to ask you to oppose the plans to allow new and existing religious free schools to discriminate against all your constituents who happen to fall outside a school's denomination. I have at least 3 objections:

1) Principles of fairness: it cannot be right that my tax money, and that of most taxpayers, goes towards educational establishments that would bar our children and grandchildren. In fact, of course, equity dictates quite the opposite; that the public funding of schools should require that they are open to all, in principle.

2) Integration: we should all know by now that a major challenge to us in the modern world is to effectively integrate our multi-cultural populations. Secularism has proved the best approach to this problem, for the religious and non-religious alike. Gandhi, recognising the challenge that faced the Indian subcontinent, was religious and a secularist, and said that the state should never promote denominational education out of public funds. As I'm sure you know, David Cameron said about the existing 50% rule:

‘It cannot be right…that people can grow up and go to school and hardly ever come into meaningful contact with people from other backgrounds and faiths. That doesn’t foster a sense of shared belonging and understanding – it can drive people apart.’

Well, he was wrong about Brexit, but I hope you’ll agree that on this score he was absolutely right! The evidence tells us that religious selection in schools entrenches religious segregation in the community, and reduces social cohesion.

3) Educational standards: faith schools have a worse record than other schools in teaching anti-science, such as creationism, and promoting views that discriminate against minorities, like the LGBT community. Despite the teaching of creationism being banned, this still didn't prevent Ofsted awarding a status of 'Good' to a school that censored questions on evolution in a science exam and admitted to teaching creationism ( Allowing full selection will increase the dangers of the wholesale indoctrination of children with these retrograde views. Of course, that is exactly why religious groups lobby for full selection!

So I hope you agree that on grounds of fairness, integration and educational standards, the removal of religious selection is what we should be aiming for, not its re-introduction. Thank you.

He replied on 11th October:

Dear Mark Jones 
Thank you for contacting me about faith schools. 

The Prime Minister has made clear that the Government is dedicated to making Britain a true meritocracy and that education lies at the heart of that mission. The Government has recently published a consultation that asks for views on a range of proposals aimed at bolstering the education system's ability to extend opportunity to all. 

While the number of children in a good or outstanding school has risen dramatically in the last few years it remains the case that too many children in this country still do not have access to either. The proposals that have been put forward look to deliver an even more diverse school system that gives all children, whatever their background, the opportunity to achieve their potential. 

Faith schools have a strong record of high pupil attainment and are often very popular with parents. Current rules, however, restrict the ability for more good faith schools to be opened, without succeeding in promoting integration. The proposals would see the current cap on the number of pupils who can be admitted on the basis of faith when the school is oversubscribed removed. 

The Government has stressed that if this rule is implemented it would be complimented [sic] by more effective requirements to ensure faith schools are properly inclusive. I can assure you that the Government will ensure that safeguards are in place to promote diversity and inclusivity in faith schools, so that pupils of all faiths and none are able to play a full part in the life of the school. 

The Government's consultation is asking for views from teachers, children and parents. If you would like to make your views known, you can do so online before 12 December. Visit

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. 
Jeremy Quin 
MP for Horsham 
House of Commons 
London SW1A 0AA 

As you can see, the response does not engage with the points in my missive except in the most tangential way. How increasing the amount of faith-based discrimination faith schools can engage in will 'deliver an even more diverse school system' I cannot imagine. Unless they simply mean we will have an even more segregated school system, which is the inevitable outcome of such a measure. And I honestly don't know what 'Current rules, however, restrict the ability for more good faith schools to be opened, without succeeding in promoting integration' means!

The suspicion is that members of the Government simply want to see more children subject to faith-based education for their own religious reasons. This suspicion is not allayed by their manipulation of the statistics to serve this agenda - the Department for Education has been ordered to amend ‘misleading’ faith school figures by the UK Statistics Authority following a BHA complaint:
BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘We’re glad the UK Statistics Authority has taken action on what was a clear attempt by the Government to massage the figures in a way that misleadingly presents the 50% cap as a failure. The idea that allowing schools to admit children from only one particular religion is in any way compatible with promoting integration was counter-intuitive to begin with, and it should come as a surprise to no-one that the figures demonstrate this.’

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