Monday, 1 September 2008

faith schools: changing the agenda

A new coalition was launched today, which aims to change the agenda on faith schools in Britain. The Accord website is here. The group’s aims are stated as follows:

We believe all state-funded schools should:

1. Operate admissions policies that take no account of pupils’ – or their parents’ – religion or beliefs.

2. Operate recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief.

3. Follow an objective, fair and balanced syllabus for education about religious and non-religious beliefs – whether determined by their local authority or by any future national syllabus or curriculum for RE.

4. Be made accountable under a single inspection regime for RE, Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE) and Citizenship.

5. Provide their pupils with inclusive, inspiring and stimulating assemblies in place of compulsory acts of worship.

Advance press coverage of this, see for example New pressure over faith schools at the BBC and Faith schools accused on employment from the Press Association and Campaigners fight to stop schools recruiting staff based on religion in the Guardian produced some strong reactions, notably Melanie McDonagh: Faith schools work. Until you take the faith away at the Independent.

A counter-coalition called the Faith Schools’ Providers Group issued a press release reported in Mainstream religious leaders unite to defend faith schools.

And the Catholic Education Service also issued its own press statement: Catholic Education Service rejects ‘spurious’ claims of group opposing faith schools.

Today, Simon Barrow has written repeatedly about what Accord is really seeking:

Ekklesia A Christian case for Accord

Open Democracy Changing the agenda on faith schools

Comment is free Changing the faith schools’ agenda

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 1:15pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

As usual I find Simon Barrow's remarks clear and clear-headed. Silly me, I should have supposed a whole lot of faith folks could agree.

Oddly, Ms. McDonagh simply tries to confuse the issues and the meanings of unavoidable boundaries by reasserting her own specialized lexicon of plausible sounding, but profoundly off-kilter, meanings.

Of course, all institutions distinguish between this and that and the other thing - rather besides the point that the rest of us are making. I find myself echoing Barrow's question: What is Ms. McDonagh afraid of? She sounds afraid of anybody who is not already just her sort, cloned by faith? Therefore the antithesis of risky or dangerous?

Actually I wouldn't want to have to deal with her sort in the soup kitchen or shelter line, for you see she is presuppositionally inside some sacred kingdom and I will never be. An eighteenth century missionary who is all to willing to arrive on foreign shores and literally whip the natives into religious shapes. But I remain unwilling to let following Jesus be a toll charge on the bridges we build across important differences, particularly in school settings. How very sad to shut differences down in God's name - shutting down minds and hearts and fair play across differences - which precisely in a pluralistic democracy would otherwise seem to be one of the key benefits we seek?

The key difference of which Ms. McDonagh would have us lose all track is that between faith as a foundation for building bridges and being fair across distinctions and differences in a diverse and democratic society - a rather basic developmental and practical venue, then, would all schools be (since everybody or nearly everbody passes through them year after year, growing up) - and faith as a definitional or presuppositional foundation for gathering together the more or less like-minded who then trash talk and sometimes even lob stones at anybody who is not suitably included in their special and holier than thou sheep holds of utterly conformed, utterly faithful believers.

Reminder to self: Check another school off the list for the children of two daddies.

Alas. This is not the better impulse of either Roman Catholic or Anglican precedents.

Alas. Lord have mercy.

Posted by: drdanfee on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 4:29pm BST

Faith schools that take no account of the Faith they serve ....this is simply secularisation !

its like asking breweries to stop making alcohol!

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 5:02pm BST

Once again the English re-invent the wheel! (Yes, I am predominantly English and Scottish.) The other week there was a great uproar in the Church of England about consecrating women to the episcopate, quite oblivious to the fact that elsewhere in the Anglican Communion there have been bishops who are women for almost twenty years. Now we have this brouhaha over church-run but state-funded schools. Has no one over there noticed that (1) the English school system is largely associated with the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church, and yet actual participation in the life of the Churches in England is abysmally low; (2) the American school system is relentlessly secular (though with some battles still being fought), and yet the US is notorious for a comparatively high rate of active church membership. Those churches that wish to run school systems of their own are welcome to do so (and there are many Roman Catholic school systems, and also a fair number of Lutheran and Evangelical schools; in the southern US particularly, a number of Episcopal schools), but they are private and funded primarily by their churches and by tuition fees, not by the state (with the exception of some state subsidy for certain non-religious programs).

In a pluralistic society, tax-supported schools should be non-sectarian. Religious groups are free to run their own schools (subject to appropriate accreditation standards), but they should are responsible for their own funding.

This is not hard, folks. The Church of England is its own worst enemy.

Posted by: WSJM on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 5:11pm BST

It is incorrect to associate the English school system as a whole with faith schools. Faith schools in total constitute only about one-third of all schools. And the proportion is much lower at the secondary (high school in American?) level.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 6:20pm BST

I'm against faith schools, especially as - in effect - state-funded. In education wider societal needs trump religious 'rights'. And countless research shows that children from badly performing backgrounds never have a chance of improving if they are all kept together.

Churches should not be selfish about this.

Posted by: john on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 7:53pm BST

re Simon's comment:
Yes, but one third is a high percentage, and anyway (from my American point of view) why should public funding go anywhere except to public (ie: state) schools?

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 8:33pm BST

From the CofE website:
How many Church of England schools are there?
25.3% of all state primary schools in England are Church of England schools - that's 4,470 schools.
5.8% of all state secondary schools in England are Church of England schools - 220 schools.

There are about 2,300 RC schools in the state system.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 1 September 2008 at 10:08pm BST

Quick comment back to Robert Ian Williams. Accord is not saying that no account should be taken of faith and belief in schools, just that it should not determine *admissions*. There are a number of faith schools that model good practice already, and the world hasn't ended. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), one of Accord's founders, which has members working in faith schools and has produced a very good 'position paper' on them, stresses that *all* schools should be aware and sensitive towards the beliefs and backgrounds of their pupils. Rightly so. That's different to favouring one group over another, though.

Posted by: Simon Barrow on Thursday, 4 September 2008 at 1:28pm BST
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