The full results of the survey on which the story below was based are now available here.
Today’s Observer newspaper carries this front page lead story:
Taxpayers’ cash should not be used to fund faith schools, say voters by Toby Helm and Mark Townsend.
Labour is calling for cross-party talks on how religious education is conducted and monitored in the state sector as a special poll for the Observer shows widespread concerns about the use of taxpayers’ money to fund faith schools in a multicultural Britain.
The survey by Opinium shows that 58% of voters now believe faith schools, which can give priority to applications from pupils of their faith and are free to teach only about their own religion, should not be funded by the state or should be abolished.
Of those with concerns, 70% said the taxpayer should not be funding the promotion of religion in schools, 60% said such schools promoted division and segregation, and 41% said they were contrary to the promotion of a multicultural society. Fewer than one in three (30%) said they had no objections to faith schools being funded by the state.
Labour supports the continuation of state-funded faith schools and shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said he saw them as “an important part of the educational landscape”. But he said the recent controversy in Birmingham, where six non-faith schools have been put into special measures and a further five criticised following allegations of a plot by hardline Muslims to infiltrate them, had raised important questions about the relationship between education and religion in a multicultural society.
Acknowledging that none of the schools criticised by Ofsted had been faith schools, Hunt said the row had triggered a real debate which politicians needed to join. “Events in Birmingham have raised questions about faith, multiculturalism and state education and in the aftermath this is the moment to think about discussing, on a cross-party basis, how we manage potential tensions, particularly in urban districts.”
Hunt said he believed that in future Ofsted should have a strong role in inspecting how religion was taught in faith schools, and that only qualified teachers should give instruction on the subject. He suggested that schools should teach about other religions, and not just one.
Opinium found that 75% of the public believed there was a serious risk pupils could be encouraged to adopt extremist views in predominantly Muslim schools. A majority – 56% – thought all faith schools should have to teach the national curriculum rather than being free to teach only about their own religion…
Some scepticism is in order regarding the claim that the controversy surrounding a small group of schools in Birmingham is just about Muslim extremism. It obscures the fact that this is rather more a crisis in the Government’s reform of the state school system in England. The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, was so keen to break the power of what he calls “the blob” – an alleged body of ideologically motivated educationalists entrenched in the system particularly at local authority level – that he has created the conditions under which the Birmingham problem could emerge…
…It apparently never occurred to the Education Secretary that some governors and some parents in some places, influenced by a highly conservative version of Islam in the local mosque, would want the local school in which a majority of children were Muslim to adjust its culture accordingly – for example by requiring male and female pupils to be segregated, or girls to be veiled.
And if teachers, including heads, did not cooperate, he had given governors the power to overrule or even replace them. But this is not so much the result of a sinister plot by Muslim extremists, more the logic of Mr Gove’s entire free school and academy reform programme. He handed power to local people, and they used it. If they rejected Western culture, particularly its attitude to the equality of women, then they had simply used the freedom Mr Gove had given them to exploit their power…