Why we should phase out state-funded religious schools
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.
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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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