Thursday, 13 June 2013

Cause I Gotta Have Faith (Schools)

Stephen Fry Up

Following Stephen Fry on Twitter can be quite exasperating. Most of his Tweets either ridicule my beliefs or take positions diametrically opposed to my own. Why then do I continue to follow him? I think it's because If you stop engaging with people with different views to yourself, you stop growing as a person and you may find that the ultimate casualty is your own beliefs as they decay through atrophy. That, and I do like his sense of humour.

Faithless Admissions

One of Mr Fry's most recent wind up tweets was his support for the "Fair Admissions" Campaign [1] which aims to "open up all state-funded schools to all children, without regard to religion", asking the following questions:

"Are you facing the prospect of your child being unable to gain admittance to your local school, because of religious selection?"
"Or have you had to game the system in order to get them in?"
"Are you happy to live in a society in which children are discriminated against on these grounds, while parents feel compelled to behave in this manner?"

The campaign is supported by the usual suspects like The British Humanist Society but is also curiously endorsed by Rt Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, The Diocese of London and The Methodist Church of Great Britain.

The Fair Admissions websites suggests that it is not the religious "ethos" which makes some faith schools perform better, but their selectivity, which is taken advantage of by more articulate, better off, parents. I have little doubt that this does take place but it is fallacious to suggest that the problem is is limited to Faith schools. Indeed, a purely secular state system of education will effectively discriminate against less affluent families who cannot afford to send their children to private schools.

The campaign "Faith Admissions" is misnomer- if it succeeds, by processes of attrition and dilution, Faith schools will cease to exist because they will be populated by children whose parents will unsympathetic to the original ethos. One of the main reasons parents want to enrol their children into these schools is that they have good reputations and there is much to suggest that the unifying characteristics of a shared Faith creates an environment in which children feel valued,confident and able to succeed. If this ethos is eroded then they risk lowering standards. As a friend has suggested, the banner of "fair admissions" hides the true agenda, which is to drive religion out of public life entirely.

Render Under to Caesar

Those who support the campaign (especially those of a religious disposition) may genuinely believe that a Faith school education does more harm than good, perhaps on the grounds that a mix of opinions will foster greater debate and more tolerance. Of course, others will go further and suggest that Faith Schools are breeding grounds for intolerant brain washing.

During an exchange on Facebook, one keen observer suggested that the state had the right and duty to decide the rules and conditions under which public funds are given out and used, and it had been doing so for schools ever since it started funding them in the nineteenth century. This may be so but the right and duty of the state to educate is only afforded because the state represents the people and can arrange education with public funds. Parents have a right and duty to educate their children as they see fit and it is not the state's place to interfere with that right. As tax payers, they also have the right to have the type of schools that they want for their children. The state establishes schools to facilitate and vindicate the rights of parents, not to abrogate them.

The Faithful Remnant 

Like many of the issues affecting the Faith today, this issue has only developed any momentum because common religious ground is being removed from the public sphere. One the one hand, the inexorable juggernaut of aggressive secularism continues to progress unabated and on the other, the number of practising faithful continues to decline. In this, we really are reaping what we sow. Still, even the faithful remnant have a right to educate their children as they see fit.


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