Thinking Anglicans

More about religion in schools

Updated Wednesday

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…

This week’s issue of The Tablet carries an editorial commenting on the Birmingham situation (see earlier article): Islamic extremism let loose by Gove

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…



Symon Hill writes for that The far-right’s god-whistle politics isn’t going away.

David Keen has ten eight Questions for the CofE to ask itself.

Andrew Brown writes for The Guardian that There’s no such thing as an atheist baby.

N T Wright has been interviewed by J John of the Philo Trust. There is a transcript here: Gay Marriage.
Tobias Haller responds with N T Wright: Wrong Again.

Gillan Scott of God & Politics in the UK writes about Oxfam’s perfect storm, poverty and yet more examples of Christians providing answers.
He has also published this guest post: Christian Aid give their take on the fallout over Oxfam’s ‘perfect storm’ poster.

Bob Morris has written for Law & Religion UK about Abdication? Reigns in Spain and the ‘A’ word (again) in the UK.

The Church of England has published these Prayers for the World Cup.
[Editor’s note: The World Cup is some sort of football competition taking place in Brazil; England is one of the teams taking part.]


Scottish Episcopal Church – General Synod

Updated twice Friday evening
Updated Saturday evening

The Scottish Episcopal Church is holding its annual General Synod from today until Saturday. The agenda and papers are available here.

There is an official report of today’s business – General Synod 2014 Day One – and these two news items:
Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church Introduces General Synod 2014
Launch of New Grosvenor Essay No.10 ‘The Church and Scottish Identity’.

There is a live audio feed here.


Here is the official report of the second day’s business: General Synod 2014 Day Two

The Primus addressed the synod following discussion on the subject of Same-Sex Relationships. The full text of his statement can be found here.

Not everybody shared his views, see:
Kelvin Holdsworth How not to have a synodical discussion
Beth Routledge Why I’m Still Not Convinced By The Cascade Conversations

More updates

Here is the official report of the third day’s business: General Synod 2014 Day Three.


Faith Schools and Trojan Horses

Updated Wednesday morning

The media reports of recent OFSTED inspections of a number of Birmingham schools, linked to the “Trojan Horse affair” alleging Islamist extremism, have led the British Humanist Association to call for a wider review of the place of religion in schools, see BHA: Birmingham schools findings reflect need for wider review of place of religion in schools

Today the BHA has called for a wider review of the place of religion in state-funded schools.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘It is vital that every young person receives a broad and balanced education in an environment that is free from discrimination on the basis of religion, gender or sexual orientation and that prepares them for life in wider British society. It is only if schools provide such an education in such an environment that we can live in a society where everyone is treated equally with tolerance and respect. Park View has been failing to do this, and we are pleased that that is now set to change.

‘However, these issues speak more widely to the need for a thorough review of the place of religion in schools. While controversy has raged about these admittedly serious problems, there has been no similar level of concern expressed about the all-too-common situation where a pupil is unable to get into their local Church of England school because their parents are not Christian; a teacher is unable to find employment at a Catholic school because they are not Catholic; or a child is left distressed or sidelined because of Christian proselytising in an assembly in a school with no religious character. While these situations are allowed to continue, it is no surprise that some people of another faith will take existing schools of no religious character and effectively treat them as their own “faith” schools. This kind of behaviour will only be stopped once no school is legally able to discriminate against any pupil, parent or member of staff.’

Church of England officials have responded strongly, see this article by Arun Arora which has also appeared over here.

Birmingham, the BHA, Religious Education and Church Schools

The publication of the OFSTED report into 21 schools in Birmingham linked to the so called “Trojan Horse” affair led to a flurry of tweets and comment from the British Humanist Association (BHA) yesterday. The thrust of their contention – that the OFSTED report showed the damage done by the presence of faith schools in the education system – is a shaky attempt to build one of the BHA’s long held aims into the news agenda. The tweeting of a comment from the debate on the report was typical: “Great from @crispinbluntmp – there should be no faith schools, every school should prepare pupils for life in wider British society”.

Unfortunately for the BHA the facts do little to support their claims. The fundamental problem with the BHA’s argument is that none of the schools being looked into in Birmingham are faith schools.

Not one.

Of the 21 Birmingham schools investigated by Ofsted, 8 are Academies and 13 are local authority run. So the BHA’s argument that “the way to stop this kind of thing is to make get rid of faith schools” is not simply misleading, it is so far off the mark as to require special measures.

Perhaps one of the deeper ironies of the BHA’s attempt to hijack this issue for their own aims is that it is a perfect example of using a “Trojan Horse”; using the OFSTED findings as subterfuge for attacking the work of church schools not least in Birmingham itself.

At the same time that the BHA was going into overdrive about the OFSTED report, the Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, was making his maiden speech in the House of Lords. His theme was education. In his speech Bishop Stephen noted that the diocese of Chelmsford has recently accepted an invitation to be a co-sponsor of the London Design and Engineering University Technical college where in addition to receiving technical and practical training, Religious Education will be given a high priority on the curriculum. The Bishop noted that the trustees of the college recognise that it is “impossible to understand and inhabit the modern world – especially in East London – without a critical appreciation of faith, and even more than this, a mature spiritual, moral, social and cultural worldview. Moreover, good religious education has been shown to be one of the best ways of countering religious extremism. “

In an interview after his speech Stephen Cottrell warmed to this theme saying “RE, perhaps in the past, might have been something which was just of academic interest. Now it’s of practical relevance to actually understand who is my neighbour, how do I love and understand and appreciate my neighbour…One of the things that most obviously contributes to cohesion between people of different cultures and different faiths is proper appreciation and understanding of different faith traditions”

The Church of England educates a million children a day in its schools. Even the BHA, in its more reflective moments, would be hard pressed to describe CofE Schools as hotbeds of religious extremism or indoctrination. The contrast between some of the findings in the recent OFSTED investigation and the experience of those educated at Church of England schools stand in marked contrast. As the former Chief Rabbi, Dr. Jonathan Sacks, wrote of his own experience of Church of England primary and secondary schools: “I went to Christian schools, St Mary’s Church Primary, then Christ’s College Finchley. We Jews were different and a minority. Yet not once was I insulted for my faith.”

The work of Church of England schools in Birmingham is evidence of Stephen Cottrell’s contention that the best way of countering religious extremism is to engage with faith and not banish it. For over a decade some Church of England primary schools in the city have had an almost 100% school roll from Muslim families, serving children from local communities in the inner city. Every Church of England School in the city educates children of all faiths and none. Meanwhile the Church of England’s only secondary school in the city provides an account of excellence and achievement in the midst of challenging circumstances.

St Alban’s Academy is the only state-funded Church of England secondary school in Birmingham and is the nearest secondary school to the city centre. The proportion of students known to be eligible for free school meals is very much higher than the national average. The percentage of students from minority ethnic backgrounds is over four times higher than the national figure and the proportion of those who speak English as an additional language is high. The percentage of students registered by as having special educational needs and/or disabilities is well above the national average.

The School’s most recent OFSTED report – from 2011 – found the school was “outstanding”. The report said “From exceptionally low attainment on entry, students leave with above average attainment and outstanding achievement.” The report further highlights the achievements of the school in providing: “outstanding spiritual, moral, social and cultural development that underpins students’ exemplary behaviour and makes an exceptional contribution to their excellent learning.”

This is the experience of millions of families who have been served by Church of England schools which remains a testament at firm odds with the doctrinaire dogmatism and opportunism of the BHA.

There is also this interview by Nigel Genders the newly-appointed Church of England Chief Education Officer.

Some media reports and comment (Updated Wednesday morning):

Dan Hodges All faith-based schools are Trojan Horse schools. Let’s ban every single one of them
Tim Stanley Trojan horse plot: the problem isn’t faith schools, it’s Islamic fundamentalism
Graeme Paton ‘Selection by faith’ axed at new wave of Anglican schools

John Harris The lesson of Birmingham? State education is in chaos
Simon Jenkins When Whitehall meddles in schools, it’s only ever bad news

BBC Sean Coughlan What is the fall out from the Trojan Horse?

Church Times Madeleine Davies Birmingham schools hit back at OFSTED after critical reports

Daily Mail Manzoor Moghal I fear Islamic extremism in these schools is just the tip of the iceberg


The Alban Pilgrimage 2014

This year’s Alban Pilgrimage takes place on Saturday 21st June 2014.

The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and John Bell of the Iona Community will be preaching at this year’s Pilgrimage.

More details on the St Albans Cathedral website here.

The timetable of the day:

11.00 Pilgrimage Procession begins through the City Centre
The route begins from St Peter’s Church, St Albans, and continues to the Town Hall and then we will process to the West End of the Cathedral.

c. 12 noon Festival Eucharist (following the Procession)
Preacher: The Most Rev’d Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. The service will be sung by the Abbey Girls Choir.

12 noon Children’s Worship and Activities
In the Abbey Primary School. All children must be registered to participate in advance – see here.

14.00 Orthodox Service and Veneration of the Relic at the Shrine of Saint Alban
Organised by the Ecumenical Chaplaincy and the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius – all welcome.

15.00 Anointing for Healing in the Lady Chapel.

16.00 Festival Evensong and Procession to the Shrine
Preacher: John Bell of the Iona Community. The service will be sung by the Cathedral Choir.

There is a booklet of information for pilgrims and you can read about the story of Saint Alban here.



Christopher Howse writes for The Telegraph about The battle against church lavatories.

William Turvill of the Press Gazette has been talking to the BBC’s Edward Stourton: British media suffers from religious ‘blind spot’ leading to ‘skewed’ coverage.

Edward Dutton writes for the Church Times about Why atheists are brighter than Christians.

Chris Russell writes for the Church Times about Why evangelism is always non-negotiable.

Ruth Gledhill has interviewed Rachel Mann for Christian Today: Transgender priest Rachel Mann made minor canon at Manchester Cathedral: ‘God did not reject me,’ she says.


BNP and National Front incompatible with teaching of Church

Update Tuesday afternoon More press reports added

The House of Bishops of the Church of England have voted to make membership or support of the British National Party (BNP) or National Front (NF) a potential disciplinary offence for its clergy, as this press release explains.

BNP and National Front incompatible with teaching of Church
03 June 2014

The House of Bishops of the Church of England have voted to make membership or support of the British National Party (BNP) or National Front (NF) a potential disciplinary offence for its clergy.

The formal declarations by the House of Bishops mean that a complaint of misconduct can be made under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 against any cleric of the Church of England who is a member of, or promotes or expresses or solicits support for, the BNP or NF.

The declarations will be laid before the General Synod of the Church at its July meeting in York and will come into force at 5.30pm on 11 July 2014 unless 25 members of the General Synod give notice that they wish a declaration to be debated. If such notice is given, the expectation is that the declaration would be debated at the Synod’s July group of sessions in York, and it could not come into force unless approved by the Synod.

The declarations state that on May 19 2014 the House of Bishops resolved to declare that the constitution, polices, objectives, activities or public statements of the National Front and the British National Party are incompatible with the teaching of the Church of England in relation to the equality of persons or groups of different races.

Once a declaration comes into force support for the political party concerned by clergy of the Church of England would be unbecoming or inappropriate conduct. The declarations from the House of Bishops, which were made under section 8(4) of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, implement in relation to the clergy of the Church of England, a policy of the General Synod agreed in February 2009 following a Private Member’s Motion from Vasantha Gnanadoss: “That this Synod, noting that in 2004 the Association of Chief Police Officers adopted a policy whereby “no member of the Police Service, whether police officer or police staff, may be a member of an organisation whose constitution, aims, objectives or pronouncements contradict the general duty to promote race equality” and “this specifically includes the British National Party”, request the House of Bishops to formulate and implement a comparable policy for the Church of England, to apply to clergy, ordinands, and such employed lay persons as have duties that require them to represent or speak on behalf of the Church.”



  • An explanatory note explaining the background to the declarations (GS 1946-7X) can be found on the Church of England website, together with the declarations:

GS 1946 National Front declaration

GS 1947 British National Party declaration

  • The Church’s teaching in relation to the equality of persons or groups of different races is set out in the 2010 House of Bishops’ theological statement Affirming our Common Humanity.
  • In making a declaration of incompatibility the House of Bishops took account of the constitutions of both parties and published statements on their behalf, including, for example, the BNP’s manifesto for the last General Election (“Democracy, Freedom, Culture and Identity”) which is published on the BNP website.

John Bingham reports for The Telegraph that Church of England bans clergy from ‘un-Christian’ BNP and National Front.

Matthew Taylor writes in The Guardian that Church of England bans clergy from joining BNP or National Front.

Pink News BNP furious after Church of England bans clergy from having party membership


The Church of England and HS2

There are numerous media reports of a formal objection to the HS2 railway project that has been made by the Church of England. See for example:

Read the official press release about it here: Archbishops’ Council submits petition on HS2 Bill to Parliament:

02 June 2014
The Archbishops’ Council has submitted a petition on the HS2 Bill to Parliament, regarding treatment of burial grounds and human remains.

A Church of England spokesperson said “In terms of ‘opposition’ the C of E is not opposing HS2 per se, rather we are petitioning for a technical change to the Bill, ie we are opposing the Bill in its present, in our view technically deficient, form. It is simply a matter of re-instating a clause which can be found in other legislation relating to development and has been left out of this Bill.”


There will be thousands of exhumations, but not at Kensal Green where HS2 runs underneath in a tunnel. It is likely there will be a significant number at the three sites, but we do not have reliable figures.

One of the problems such projects face is that it’s difficult to judge the amount of time and money which will be needed to deal properly with human remains.

Individual churches near the line are opposing the Bill and have sent in their own petitions. We hope to achieve better mitigation and where necessary compensation for these churches and their communities. We are particularly worried about the effect on Chetwode St Mary in Buckinghamshire, but there are others.

Main burial grounds that will be disturbed

Euston St James Gardens, London, to be cleared (actually in St Pancras parish), 18th-19th century.

Kensal Green cemetery London, tunnel underneath (so no exhumations).

Stoke Mandeville St Mary old church, Bucks / Oxford, to be cleared (a ruin, with burial ground probably 12th century to 1905)

Park Street / Curzon interchange, Birmingham 18th-19th century, to be cleared.

This is all explained at Law & Religion UK HS2, burial grounds, the Church of England and hybrid bills.