Why we should phase out state-funded religious schools

Andrew Copson

72760692 300x194 Why we should phase out state funded religious schoolsWhat sort of education do we want to provide for our children and in what sort of environment?

Those of us who work for the reform or phasing out of state-funded religious schools do so because we want every state school to be open to children of every background, no matter what their parents’ or their own beliefs – political, religious, or philosophical. We want children to mix in schools, parents to mix at the school gate, and the classroom to be as diverse a place as the local area from which it draws its pupils. We want this because only through proximity, and communal life can mutual understanding grow, and because mutual understanding is the key to the future happiness of society.

We want the entitlement of every child to be an education that fits them for life in the society they will go out into, and one that draws on all the broad and rich heritage of the human tradition.

In terms of education in and about beliefs and values (religious or non-religious), we want children to develop understanding of a broad range of views, religious and secular, and to have the chance to discuss and debate their own reactions to what these views imply. They should be able to make their own informed choices. We want them to have thorough sex and relationships education, because such an education reduces the risk of unwanted pregnancy and abortion, of sexually transmitted infections, and it helps children to grow into healthy, stable and complete adults.

We think that jobs in schools should be open to all teachers who are qualified to do them, whatever their private beliefs may be.

This is what we want, and what we would want the law and public policy to ensure. But it doesn’t.

There are state funded schools that can discriminate in their admissions, causing religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic separation, and discriminate in their employment policies, reducing the prospects of non-religious staff or staff of the ‘wrong’ religion. 100% state-funded schools that don’t have to teach about a broad range of beliefs and values but can teach that only a certain worldview is the true one, without ever exposing their pupils to alternative perspectives. Schools that don’t have to teach about contraception, or fulfilling and meaningful human relationships outside of heterosexual marriage. There are schools that teach that salt water and fresh water do not mix (because it says in the Quran they don’t), that gay people burn forever in a pit of fire.

So called ‘faith’ schools are the legacy of laws first passed nearly seventy years ago, extended to non-Christian religions as the inevitable consequence of a recent tendency towards equal treatment which in other areas of public policy is laudable but in this area, makes for a more segregated future. Our children – who deserve a reformed, inclusive and accommodating community school system, with a curriculum fit for the twenty-first century – are let down by their continuing existence, and by our allowing it.

Throughout October and November, The Independent Online is partnering with the Battle of Ideas festival to present a series of guest blogs from festival speakers on the key questions of our time.

Andrew Copson is the Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association. He is speaking at a head-to-head debate entitled Faith Schools: inspiration or indoctrination? at the Battle of Ideas festival on Sunday 31st October. Picture: Getty images

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  • julianzzz

    Yes and abolish private schools as well, we’ll never have an equal and undivided society if exclusivity is practiced and preached. At this time of cuts to vital services it is a disgrace that failing destructive cults are supported by state subsidy, to preach division and promote nonsense to the detriment of our communities

  • nialldcrowley

    I was sent to Sunday school (along with my siblings) so my mom could get some peace and cook dinner without us around – a very smart move I think.
    Sending kids to faith schools is neither a good nor bad thing, it’s about parents’ autonomy. Why shouldn’t they, if that’s what they believe in? Why are we so intolerant about people wanting to do this? Faith schools are not responsible for the ills of the world, society is a little more complicated than that.

  • gerry3273

    I think this breaks down into two questions:
    1) Should we fund faith schools with public money (the question of Andrew Copson’s blog entry)?
    2) Should there be faith schools at all? In other words, should there be privately funded religious schools?

    To the first question, the state should be secular (i.e., neutral on questions of religion) and state funds should not be used to support religion (or, for that matter, atheism). This is not intolerance. It simply should not be the role of the state to fund religion.

    It’s not just a question of parents’ autonomy. It’s a question of what our taxes should be spent on.

    On the second question, I don’t like the idea of indoctrinating children into religion at all but I don’t think the state should have the power to ban religion in private schools. However, that’s not what the original article is about.

  • John Cahalane

    Yes, I went to a catholic school in the 50’s and was made to feel different by my friends, who attended non faith schools.At some point i started to question my parents,why had they sent me to this school?, all my friends do is take the ”micky”.My parents reply was, we have brought you up as a catholic,so it should be obvious to you that this is perfectly normal,NO, THIS IS NOT NORMAL, to be made to feel this way,DIFFERENT.Later in life i left the church and my parents home,got my own mind back and now I’m very happy being an atheist.Faith schools,by there nature, are .devisive,how can this be a good thing if we are to bring children together.

  • Toby_Marshall

    I agree and disagree with what has been said.

    I agree that both the advocates and critics of faith schools overstate their significance. Schools tend to express, rather than create, social divisions and it is the job of politicians, not teachers, to resolve them.

    That said, I worry more than Niall about the new vogue for religiosity in education.

    I know it has long been a feature of British schools, but I think there is something new a foot.

    For me the promotion of faith-based education today expresses the crisis of secular liberal humanism. In the absence of compelling vision of what schools are for, politicians in desperation jump on anything that might galvanise them. In other words, any ‘old vision’ will do.

    This high-jacking isn’t much good for religion, as can only lead to its dilution and is disaster for education, which ought to organise around reason, not faith.

    Atheists, Druids, Christians and Progressives should all be challenging this trend.

    Churches are for churching. Schools are for educating.

    As someone once said: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”

    That’s Matthew 22:21 for those you who feel asleep in Sunday school.


  • LondonBeagle

    Presumably the fact that parents fight to get their children into these schools because they consider (year, after year, after year) that they provide superior education (which the league tables, for all their faults, rather supports) is not a factor?

    Rather than abolish faith schools, my question is this: why can’t other state comprehensive schools replicate the educational triumph of faith schools (especially RC schools).
    The only comprehensive (non acadmically selective) schools in the top 50 schools in the UK, are catholic schools.
    No doubt a product of those poor, deluded parents simply wanting the best free education for their children.

  • davidperks

    There is no doubt that parents seek out religious schools in the capital as a way out of being forced to go to some pretty dire secular state schools. To deny this is to put one’s head in the sand. This is an accident of history rather than some grand design on the part of the Catholic Church.

    However, it is the state secular education that needs holding up to scrutiny. Like Dawkins un-humanism which sees us as biological machines, the state pedals cynicism not belief. It is a standing joke in my school that the last place you will find a teacher that believes in God is in the RE department – now proudly renamed philosophy and theology. They don’t even believe in relativism instead promoting the idea that children should make up their own minds once they have critiqued every belief system under the Sun.

    State secularism is barren and sets pupils adrift in a see of meaninglessness afraid of anyone with strong views or a real belief system.

    At least the God squad put humans in a special place. The secular vision of humans as a pestilience on the planet in a universe that will die an unending death leaves me cold!

    That said there is still room for a liberal humanist alternative but it is noticeable by its absence.

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