By Vexen Crabtree 2010
In 2001 there were 7000 state faith schools in England (of 25000). The worst teach creationism/intelligent design and some, although they excel at religious education and Koranic studies, fail on everything else from science to fitness. Faith schools on the whole take in far fewer poor pupils and fewer of those with special education needs than do non-religious all-inclusive schools. Conversely, faith schools tend to select better-educated and more well-off pupils. Reports on the race riots of 2001 criticized faith schools for creating the segregation that increases racial and religious sectarian tensions. Over 800 studies by social psychologists have found that cooperating and extended contact between racial groups is a very good way of producing positive race relations. Faith schools sometimes produce better-than-average results, but they also select students based on ability (despite attempts to stop that), whereas state schools accept poorer students in the first place. The Home Office, National Union of Teachers, Chief Schools Inspector, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers have all spoken out against faith schools. The United Nations Human Rights Commission and the European Union's Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia both recommend non-sectarian education, especially of children, as a means to reduce intolerance. The National Secular Society has long campaigned for the government to reverse the creation of faith schools (100 new ones since 1997), and instead convert faith schools back into all-inclusive secular schools where religion and race do not define the children. Abolishing faith schools will decrease social tension between ethnic and religious groups, increase the fairness of the schools system (as religious schools accept fewer poor and disadvantaged students), and reduce the scope for religious extremism and indoctrination.
|State Faith Schools||20101||20062||20013|
|Christian - Church of England||4887||4646|
|Christian - Roman Catholic||2041|
|Seventh Day Adventist||1||1||1|
|United Reformed Church||1|
|Independent Faith Schools||20101||2007|
A "sectarian" school is one that segregates children according to racial, ethnic or religious lines. There were 7000 state faith schools in 2001. They are not just elements of a more religious, less tolerant past: 100 of them have been created since 1997, "including the first Sikh, Greek Orthodox and Muslim state school"5 and before which, all were Christian or Jewish. The chart to the right lists some counts of state faith schools; some complications are omitted such as combination faith schools; for example 2 Church of England/United Reform Church faith schools, and other interdenominational ones.
The British government House of Commons Library documents that in 2006/7 "around one-third of maintained primary and secondary schools in England are faith schools and just under one-quarter of pupils attend such schools"6, 1.7 million pupils in total. In addition in 2010 the 957 independent faith schools provided for another 21 200 pupils. There are also 53 faith-based Academies (of 203 in total)1. About 40% of all independent schools are faith schools1.
“A report on race riots in Bradford five years ago found that the existence of religious schools had increased segregation and contributed to racial tension. [...] Critics [of faith schools] argue that as faith-based schools increase in numbers, racial and ethnic mixing will dwindle.”
“The more religious schools there are, the less the chance of eliminating Sectarianism - and, the more minority religion schools there are, the greater the danger of splintering our education system along racial as well as sectarian lines.”
“Amartya Sen [is] a Nobel laureate, a former master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard. [...] In his recent book Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, Sen argues that [...] to try to classify individuals according to a religious identity is an intellectual confusion that "can animate dangerous divisiveness". It's hard to read those words without thinking about the recent murder in Preston.”
“The government favours faith schools: Christian groups are pitching in to run new city academies in poor areas.”
Most schools, and all large ones, have subcultures. You have skaters, punks, goths, metallers, jocks, and a mix of other cliques. This is normal and to suppress it is unhealthy and impossible. Division, conflict and misunderstanding occurs between these different groups. The further apart these groups are, the worse the mutual misunderstanding, mutual disrespect and mutual discompassion. When people with different beliefs are segregated, the results are impersonalisation. Impersonalisation allows violence10.
This is apparent not just against those of the 'wrong' religious beliefs. Stonewall, a lobbying body that defends homosexuality in Britain, has released a report saying that bullying, including beatings, is more common in faith schools11. In schools where teachers state that homophobic bullying is wrong, the rate of bullying is reduced by 60%. Increased violence and disharmony between religious groups is an unfortunate side-effect of having exclusive religious schools.
Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrat party in the UK, says that in order to reduce bullying and intolerance in faith schools, they should explicitly explain that homosexuality is natural - 'normal and harmless'. Unfortunately, Church leaders still react strongly to such suggestions, and he drew much criticism from the Church of England. It should be beyond the control of government as to how children are raised by their parents, but in schools, the government has every right to assert that tolerance and moral values come before dogma, especially when that dogma results in discrimination and social injustice.12
“Britain is 'sleepwalking towards segregation'”
Trevor Phillip (2006)13
Prof. Sen writes that "an Islamist instigator of violence against infidels may want Muslims to forget that they have any identity other than being Islamic". When members of various cultures live close together, empathy and understanding are increased and this process is very important during the formative and educational early years of a child's life.
“With experience of diverse people you will find you have much empathy for people, more understanding of the basic way that people work. An understanding of how to avoid unnecessary and unproductive conflict between people from different cultures (due to simple things like body language and language) is a skill that will also enable you to control and understand people who are not like yourself.”
“Religious schools, however, tend to divide society because, as a result of them, pupils become segregated by denomination or religion. The sectarianism, perhaps unwittingly accepted or encouraged at home, and reinforced at school often leads children to develop a circle of friends predominantly-even if subconsciously-chosen on religious grounds. This sets a pattern which can carry on throughout life and be transmitted to offspring, perpetuating the problem.”
To have a sectarian school where everyone is part of the same cult or group, or are taught a particular ideology that they are also taught at home, leads to a complete separation between those who attend the sectarian school to those that don't. When these people come to mix with others with other views, the intellectual and emotional conflicts are very much amplified. Many hundreds of sociological studies have shown that brining children up with cooperative learning methods in mixed-race or mixed-culture groups largely removes this animosity:
“From all this research - 818 studies by one count (Druckman & Bjork, 1994) - what can we conclude? Cooperative learning [between racial groups], said Slavin (1980) is an "effective means of increasing positive race relations and achievement in desegregated schools." Cross-racial friendships also begin to blossom.”
This research and other investigations back up the European Union's specialist racism and xenophobia unit, the European Union Monitoring Centre, when they list multiple social ills that are bettered by abolishing segregation in schooling:
“The EUMC stresses the crucial importance of education and training measures in combating racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia and related intolerances. Equal access to quality education for all is a critical foundation for integration and community cohesion. In this respect, Member States should introduce policies to avoid that minority pupils are placed in separate classes. Segregated forms of education should be either completely abolished or reduced to short-term preparatory classes leading to the integration of minority children into regular schooling.”
It is better that Catholics and Protestants mingle in schools, with a common education. The alternative is what we had in Northern Ireland, where Catholic schools and Protestant schools churn out two completely opposed groups of people, who are not familiar with the "humanness" of the other group. Sectarian education puts people at a serious disadvantage in life when dealing with those who have not gone through the same indoctrination. Community is the most important part of anti-hate and pro-compassion, and without a general fellowship between those who disagree, emotional conflict (leading to physical conflict, as we know too well) will never be healed.
“The Home Office recommended [mixed schools, not sectarian ones] after releasing a report on the riots in the northern cities of Bradford, Oldham and Burnley that warned that a heavy concentration of students from one religion or racial group risks damaging community cohesion.”
Barry James (2002)16
Faith Schools, Idealist schools and all kinds of sectarian pre-adult schooling is wrong. If adults, in life, wish to attend courses in particular (religious) subjects later in life then that is their choice, but sectarian schooling should not form a valid alternative to mandatory education. Even though all schools have to teach most of the curriculum, it is undoubted that heavy bias occurs in religious schools where educational content such as science disagrees with the tenets of the religion.
“Amartya Sen [is] a Nobel laureate, a former master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard. [...] In his recent book Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, Sen argues that we are doing something terrible to our children by letting them attend faith schools. He writes: "[...] Under this system, young children are placed in the domain of singular affiliations well before they have the ability to reason about different systems of identification that may compete for their attention."
It's a dismal image (isn't it?) of small children thus having destinies foisted upon them before they can think. Sen argues that this classification is not just disastrous for the child's development, but for community solidarity too. We saw something similar in Northern Ireland, he contends, where state-run denominational schools "fed the political distancing of Catholics and Protestants".”
It's like having a "Communist school" where children go and get indoctrinated by staunchly communist teachers, teaching them history and politics... even if exam results are otherwise good, the children themselves are at huge risk of intellectual harm in such biased environments. Even if the school teaches the curriculum, it does not do so in a balanced way. Faith schools, including fundamentalist Christian, fundamentalist Islam, or schools with a specific religious agenda (cult schools), political idealist schools and schools ran by private entrepreneurs should be heavily checked against all forms of indoctrination which inevitably arises; in particular in the political or religious sectarian schools.
For example in Texas there is a culture of fundamentalist Christianity. Texan preachers tell tales about the horrors of atheism and nonbelief, directly and indirectly, and fundamentalist Christians are famous for saying that not only are non-Christian beliefs "wrong", but also that they are "immoral". This sectarian and divisive behavior is socially destructive, and when the products of this indoctrination are faced with actual atheists, or non-believers in their own ideology, comments such as "immoral" are very divisive and conflictive. If the individuals were not brought up with a sectarian education, such comments would already be understood to be hate mongering... but in fact, with sectarian schooling, the gulf between people of different ideologies is too great for each side to view the others as normal "correct" human beings.
Education is the foundation of modern society. Science, humanities and fitness, amongst many other things, are required aspects of life as a human being, and our schooling systems reflect this by attempting to produce well-tuned, compassionate and intelligent people capable of living productive and healthy lives. Parents are not free to deny their children education, even if they adopt home education, because it is severely detrimental to the child and is equivalent to abuse.
It would also be wrong to deny Christian parents the freedom to teach their children about Christianity and take them to Christian services, etc. Although this early form of indoctrination is a little hard to defend, it is also hard to condemn it as long as the parents honestly believe they are doing the right thing, and the practice does not interfere with the child's general education. Christian fundamentalists, however, do interfere with their childrens' education, disagreeing wholesale with geology, history, religious education, biology, physics and other sciences, and teaching that these are erroneous, Satanic sciences that are pitted against their biblical-based beliefs.
We reach a no-win situation. It is hard to believe that we should remove children from their homes because their parents are extreme, or because we think they are being indoctrinated. This would be fascist - the government has no authoritive say on what parents should "teach" children, and such a right-wing move would in itself damage the potential of intelligent society. But on the other hand, allowing parents to damage their childrens' well-being is also morally problematic. On this one-to-one basis, the government has no philosophically defensible way of ensuring that children are brought up correctly, but in schools, the government does have a method of ensuring an attempt at good education.
On average, moderate faith-based schools perform better and are oversubscribed. A study held in the House of Common's Library (2009)6 contains the following bullet points and although a few of them are minor and unrelated to our main theme they are still interesting, and the others highlight some of the controversial aspects of faith school's makeup:
“In January 2008 11.2% of pupils at primary faith schools and 11.0% at secondary faith schools were eligible for free school meals. These rates compare to national averages of 15.6% and 12.9% for primary and secondary schools respectively. [...] . Among religions with more than a handful of schools, Methodist and Catholic schools had the highest proportion of pupils with free school meals and Jewish, Church of England and `other Christian´ the lowest. None had rates that were above those of schools with no religious character, or above national averages. [...] Faith schools have a lower proportion of pupils with SEN [Special Educational Needs]. In 2008 1.2% of pupils at mainstream state14 faith schools had statemented SEN and 15.9% unstatemented. This compares to 1.7% statemented and 18.9% unstatemented schools with no religious character.”
House of Commons Standard Note SN/SG/4405 (2009)6
Amongst faiths that only have a few schools, "Muslim primary and secondary schools had rates that were well above average"6. Christian faith schools appear to be doing the opposite of what their own faith demands; Biblical morality asserts the prominence of the poor and unempowered in the Christian mission to the outside world, yet, Christian schools cater for the better-off, leaving the state with a higher proportion of difficult pupils. Hence, Christian schools appear to be better, when in reality it is the non-faith (secular) schools that do most for the needy.
“Faith schools consistently achieve better results than other state schools, and the Government believes this is in part due to a stronger ethos being laid down in the classrooms. Recent surveys show that 45 per cent of the population of England has no religious belief while nearly a third do not believe in God, but perversely for every place in a Church of England classroom there are 160 applications from parents.”
The Observer (2001)3
One reason is self-fulfilling: as a result of being more popular, faith-based schools are able to pick which students they choose to accept and of course they don't accept students that might reduce their league table positions. In short, their selection procedure is more elitist. It means that they take on more capable students therefore have better results, not that they are better schools. They select better students, normally from more well-off families:
“Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: "This is no surprise at all. While over 20% of pupils take free school meals in community schools, only 12.2% do so in CofE schools. Similarly, the number of children with Special Educational Needs with statements is well over 2% in community schools it is only 1.5% in Faith schools".”
An example of this includes their response to government issued guidelines stating that children in care should be given priority, because they are "disadvantaged group who have low levels of attainment". But this is rejected by Church schools. One governor, John Hicks of St Barnabas' Church of England school in Pimlico, said: "We know children in care must be educated but it can be detrimental to schools that are oversubscribed", which is blatantly an elitist selection criteria and not anything to do with a "religious ethos". A different governor said to the Sunday Times "The blunt truth is church schools are operating a selective policy creaming off the middle class". Radio 4 reported that the Vardy Foundation (fundamentalist Christian schools that teach creationism) is expelling troublesome students that other schools would not expel and expelling far more students than others in the same area18. In order to look good on league tables they manipulate the pool in order to boost results.
Faith schools do do better because they are advantaged through élitist selection policies, accepting the richer and better students, whilst rejecting a higher proportion of disabled and disadvantaged students. It is ironic and hypocritical that they claim their better results are a result of their "religious ethos", yet their selection process is materialistic and opportunistic at the expense of the worse off... which is about as antithetical to their "ethos" as you can get!
“Although the Catholic Church maintains clerical control over appointments and promotions in its schools, the majority of its staff are secular professionals and in most countries there is little about Catholic schooling that now distinguishes it from secular alternatives. Indeed, at the level of higher education, there is almost nothing about such American Catholic academies as Notre Dame or Loyola which distinguishes them from secular universities.”
"Religion in the Modern World: From Cathedrals to Cults" by Steve Bruce (1996)19
“A recent study by the Institute for Research in Integrated Strategies, a think-tank, found that religious primary schools take fewer children from low-income families than nearby local-authority schools. And the London School of Economics discovered this year that religious schools give lower priority to children in care than their secular counterparts do. Though they achieve better results than ordinary state schools [...], critics claim they do so through selecting by stealth.”
Although the Church of England routinely denies that Church schools select more able students, therefore looking like better schools, sometimes they are caught out doing so. The Local Government Ombudsman, Tony Redmond, has reported that one girls' school was weighting admissions in favour of the brightest children. Lady Margaret school in Parson's Green, West London, receives 600 applications a year for only limited places, and uses a points system which works to select the brightest students. As a result, the school is regularly among the top five comprehensives for GCSE and A-level results.
“The practices used by the school will be banned by the Government's new admissions code, which comes into effect in September 2008, but the Ombudsman said many of the criteria infringed the current guidance and ordered the school to review them, which it has agreed to do.”
Because faith schools select applicants who are already more intelligent and with a better educational background, it makes them look good in league tables. This proves a disadvantage to poor and troubled students who are genuinely interested in the religion of the faith school, so, the government has legislated that faith schools have to accept poor students and has investigated many faith schools for their failure to do this. The Government's attempts to curb elitism have been going on for some time. The Guardian reported on it in 2008:
“Significant numbers of schools are flouting laws designed to make admissions fairer, with some asking parents to pledge hundreds of pounds to secure their child a place, the government has found. Other schools are asking about parents' professions, giving priority to children whose parents attended the school and not giving priority to children in care. Abuse of the admissions code is disproportionately concentrated in faith schools and those that control their admissions, said the children's secretary, Ed Balls. [...]. Ministers this week met Roman Catholic, Anglican and Jewish leaders to express their concerns. The evidence was so shocking, ministers said, that at one point they considered suspending this year's offers of school places, pending a full enquiry.”
The Guardian (2008 Mar 12)
In 2010 The Telegraph reported that "in the last six months alone, more than 30 faith schools have been subjected to investigations by England´s admissions watchdog after being accused of breaching the strict code" and iterates a long list of breaches of rules.
Alongside the approach of forcing faith schools to accept more poor and needy students is to accept the advice of experts and make sure that these schools do not completely separate themselves from mainstream society. Government concerns over the 'integration' of pupils from faith schools with society have led to them forming new rules to ensure that faith schools take a greater proportion of pupils who are not adherents of the school's religion.
But the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who leads the Church of England, argues against such legal requirements and as a result of pressure, the Government in 2010 backed off from imposing a new law requiring a greater number of non-adherent pupils. "Education Secretary Alan Johnson said he had dropped the idea after reaching a 'voluntary agreement' with churches. [...] Mr Johnson has said he reached a deal with the Catholic Church and the Church of England to "ensure" they would reserve up to a quarter of places in their schools for children of other faiths or of no faith"2.
“New research published by the Fair Admissions Campaign has highlighted the extent to which faith-based admissions policies create socio-economic segregation. According to the findings, comprehensive secondary schools with no religious character admit 11% more pupils eligible for free school meals than live in their local areas. Comprehensive Church of England secondaries admit 10% fewer; Roman Catholic secondaries 24% fewer; Jewish secondaries 61% fewer; and Muslim secondaries 25% fewer. [...]
Chairman of the Accord coalition for inclusive education Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said ... "This new research exposes the hypocrisy of those who claim religiously selective schools serve the community at large. [... Selection is] skewed towards serving the affluent at the expense of the deprived."”
Different schools allow a different rate of selection by their own criteria. Those schools who are freer to select students take on far fewer poor children than other schools in their area. Church of England schools that do not select children based on religion, manage to accept 4% more poor pupils than others in their area. But those "whose admission criteria allowed for full selection on religious grounds admitted 31% fewer children on free school meals". Despite this, in Nov 2013 the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said formally that Church of England schools should be able to set their own admissions criteria. This is something that they should not be allowed to do. As state-funded schools, there should be no selection on religious grounds, and, in order to prevent their long-term abuse of the selection system, they should not be setting their own criteria at all.
“Three Church of England secondary schools recently highlighted by the Fair Admissions Campaign as amongst the most socio-economically and ethnically selective in the country have been found by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) to have admissions policies that break the School Admissions Code. Twyford Church of England High School in Ealing, Archbishop Blanch CofE VA School in Liverpool, and the Grey Coat Hospital in Westminster, will both now have to rewrite their policies to bring them in line with the OSA´s determinations.”
Fair Admissions Campaign (2013 Dec 17)23
Our government has not had to face this issue much, in history, as there have been no large organized fundamentalist groups in England. But now there are, and they have been growing in size steadily for decades, so that now the Church of England and other otherwise moderate religious groups are turning, from within, into more fundamentalist groups. Groups such as the Christian Institute, Reform, Christian Alliance, have all gained enough political power to create pressure that has succeeded in changing the laws on several fronts, in their favour, and to the detriment of those of different beliefs. For example, they have gained the rights to fire people on the grounds of sexuality.
In addition, fundamentalist Muslim groups have been rising too, in accordance with the general rise of fundamentalism across all of the West. The UK government is not quite prepared or used to the adept politicians that these groups contain. There is pressure for more and more faith schools, and also for extra legal rights *for* those schools. For example, now these schools require much less public notice than they did before - they can be set up and launched with little public awareness, whereas previously there was an adequate period of public notice to allow for local debate.
Of the various faith schools, some are worse than others. Some are only vaguely biased, such as the respected Church of England primary schools, which are nearly completely secular in all but name, with the exception that school assembly has a Christian slant - though parents can opt their children out. There is one famous example where all the parents opted their children out of the school assembly, and an alternative, normal, non-Christian assembly was set up in its place. But there are increasing numbers of faith-specific schools. Some of these are ok. Some are not, and growing numbers are fundamentalist.
“Before Sept. 11, it looked like a bad idea; it now looks like a mad idea," said Tony Wright, a member of Parliament who belongs to the ruling Labour Party. [...] The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church already run many of the schools that are paid for by the state.”
Barry James (2002)16
The Government helps fund these fundamentalist and extreme Christian faith schools such as those ran by the Vardy Foundation which is shortly opening a new evangelical school in Middlesbrough. These teach Creationism, that God created the world in 7 days 4,000 years ago, making a mockery of the entirety of a child's "education"24. Even France suffers from an increasing problem of faith schools. The Vardy Foundation is ran by the fundamentalist evangelical car salesman Sir Peter Vardy. The new Creationist school is the "The King's Academy", and will match the existing "Emmanuel" in Gateshead, where students are required to carry two Bibles with them at all times24.
“A school in the north-east of England that (almost uniquely in Britain) teaches literal biblical creationism [...] Emannuel College in Gateshead, is one of the 'city academies' set up in a proud initiative of the Blair government. Rich benefactors are encouraged to put up a relatively small sum of money (£2 million in the case of Emmanuel), which buys a much larger sum of government money (£20 million for the school, plus running costs and salaries in perpetuity), and also buys the benefactor the right to control the ethos of the school, the appointment of a majority of the school governors, the policy for exclusion or inclusion of pupils, and much else. Emmanuel's 10 per cent benefactor is Sir Peter Vardy, a wealthy car salesman [who] has unfortunately become embroiled with a clique of American-inspired fundamentalist teachers, led by Nigel McQuoid, sometime headmaster of Emmanuel and now director of a whole consortium of Vardy schools. The level of McQuoid's scientific understanding can be judged from his belief that the world is less than ten thousand years old [...] that we used to be monkeys [but] science is not Mr McQuoid's subject [so] we should, in fairness, turn to his head of science, Stephen Layfield, instead. [... This Stephen Layfield is a Biblical fundamentalist who believes, and teaches, that the Earth was created as it says in Genesis.]
This is not some preacher in a tent in Alabama but the head of science at a school into which the British government is pouring money [ - ] a school whose head of science teaches that the entire universe began after the domestication of the dog.”
In Scotland an Islamic faith school was recently closed (taken over) for continually failing on education, fitness & other issues. It excelled in Arab & Koran studies, however. This particular school was so extreme that the Muslim community itself had raised concerns about its fundamentalism. That this type of school is possible shows that the government is too lax on its approach to faith schools - and getting laxer.
These types of school need to be closed and banned, outright. The schools in question are largely the non-ISC (Independent Schools Council) ones, and have already faced severe criticism. The chief schools inspector, David Bell, said that Britain's independent schools are among the worst in the country, and warned that "a number of Christian and Muslim schools set up privately failed to deliver an adequate core curriculum outside of religious education" (2003)26.
For example, a Glasgow Scottish Muslim school recently failed a government inspection on education, fitness, lifestyle, gender equality. Instead of teaching the subjects that children require, half of all time is spent on Islamic studies. These poor children are being stunted for life. As a result "school inspectors have published a damning report on one of Scotland's two independent Muslim school"27.
The government is aware of the problems, for sure, but in the current political climate the government is under pressure to be nice to Muslims, and also the Bush-Blair alliance is pro-evangelical Christian, too, leading to an all-round increase in rights for such groups. Thankfully the intelligent Mr. Blair is less extreme than Bush, and there is no chance that USA-style laws will allow science to be sidelined by religious or superstitious alternatives. The USA has had serious problems with religious influence on education, but Europe as a whole (except for the usual exception of Greece) has had a model secular education, par excellence.
Also see my list of pages on Islam: "Islam: A Critical Look at Contemporary Issues" by Vexen Crabtree (2006).
There are over 100 Muslim faith schools in the UK, over ten of them are state-run. It is these that make the news most often. But there are also schools that are secular in name, but have whom attracted a great many Muslims, such as Palfrey Junior state school, which has 360 pupils. 98% of its pupils are Muslim, and the schools runs as a Muslim faith school even though it is not. "A legal requirement for 'mainly Christian' worship is met with generic 'songs to God'. Swimming is segregated by sex; at the request of Muslim parents, there is no sex education and all food is halal. During Ramadan, pupils who fast are kept indoors in case they become dehydrated. [...] Some women teachers wear a niqab, concealing their face, in the street; in school, only their hair is covered with a scarf".28. In other words, there is pressure at this school to present yourself as more Islamic, more traditional, and even the teachers comply. The pressure on children must be great, too, and this all at a school that is not officially Islamic.
Islamic education in the West today is woefully inadequate. A "parallel" schooling system is one in which Muslim schools educate Muslim children in all the same subjects as public schools, but, in a Muslim environment and with extra Islam-specific lessons. Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim and religious studies academic, argues against these in Western Muslims and the Future of Islam29. His criticisms of parallel schooling include arguments that (a) parallel Muslim schools take in only a very small percentage of Muslim children partially due to their expense and their limited offer of scholarships, and that most Muslim communities do not have the resources or finances to fund Muslim schools, (b) that their raison d'être is flawed, offering not only education but a 'parallel reality' and a sectarian existence outside of the communities of the host culture, and (c) that in reality many of the teaching staff are not qualified or experienced in either secular or Qur´anic disciplines. Ramadan goes to lengths to explain how separating Muslim children from the general population causes fear and discomfort with regards to how their Muslim identity sits with society at large: "The result is that "artificially Islamic" closed spaces are created in the West that are almost completely cut off from the surrounding society"30. At the very least, secular teachers need to be brought in to teach non-Islamic subjects in an impartial manner.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights takes into account the studies of intolerance done by social psychologists, reporting that raising children without segregation is the key to combating intolerance:
“66. The human mind is the source of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief, and should therefore be the main target of any action to curb such behaviour. Education could be the prime means of combating discrimination and intolerance. It could make a decisive contribution to inculcating values pertaining to human rights and the development of tolerant and non-discriminating attitudes and behaviour, thus helping to spread the culture of human rights. The role of the schools in this educational effort is crucial.”
United Nations Commission on Human Rights (1995)31
“Probably the first formal proposal of a set of social-psychological principles for reducing prejudice was Allport's (1954) contact hypothesis (as it has come to be called), which is summarized in a very famous quote:”
"Prejudice (unless deeply rooted in the character structure of the individual) may be reduced by equal status contact between majority and minority groups in the pursuit of common goals. The effect is greatly enhanced if this contact is sanctioned by institutional supports (i.e. by law, custom or local atmosphere)"
It does not accord with this mentality that we can promote sectarian schooling and allow segregation of children according to the religious wishes of their parents, this is not in keeping with mature anti-discrimination society nor the style of secular government where we do not assume any particular religious belief is correct and others are wrong. It is not the function of the state to promote particular religions or particular religious beliefs. As the function of faith-based schools is proselytisation, it is not right that the state should fund these schools, let alone actively take part in their creation, unless such a scheme is implemented for all faiths, which is of course impossible.
“Once a publicly funded school is opened for one religion or sect, it will simply increase the call for more. And who is to say which religions are acceptable and which are not? And imagine the outcry if it were decided to close one! With no religious schools, these problems are much easier to deal with, or do not arise. If, however, as we advocate, all children from all backgrounds were brought together in non-denominational schools they would be much more likely to learn how to live in harmony. This is the best, and perhaps only, chance we have of achieving this harmony. Well-meaning legislative solutions, such as those proposed by Donald Gorrie MSP, are not the answer or the cure. Prevention is the only way. We would therefore seek to work towards equality through a programme of converting religious schools to non-denominational schools.”
The continued creation of religious schools is "unlikely to be rolled back, supported as it is by both the main political parties". Trust schools are unpopular with the public, and the start of the twentyfirst century saw determined public opposition to all religious schools continue, but also government support for such schools continued. Related are "trust schools", "unpopular with most teachers' unions" as the National Union of Teachers opposes in general the idea of outside sponsors of schools, either from religious bodies or from companies5. "The Association of Teachers and Lecturers voted on April 11th in favour of banning state funds for new religious schools by 2020 [and] the National Union of Teachers is to debate calling for an eventual end to state money for all such schools"5.
In conclusion, the benefits of abolishing religious and sectarian schools are:
Reduced social tension between different religions and ethnic groups
Increased fairness of school selection as religious schools have to accept poorer students
Increased experience of others, empathy and compassion
Less scope for fundamentalism, indoctrination and child abuse
The United Nations recommends mixed-religion and mixed-race schools as the best way of combating intolerance and discrimination.31
The European Union's Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia stated: "The EUMC stresses the crucial importance of education and training measures in combating racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia and related intolerances. [...] Segregated forms of education should be either completely abolished or reduced to short-term preparatory classes [preceding] integration".
The UK government's own Home Office recommended mixed schools, not religious ones, after releasing a report on the race riots in the northern cities of Bradford, Oldham and Burnley, warning that concentrating people from one religion, damages community cohesion.8
The chief schools inspector, David Bell, warned that a number of Christian and Muslim faith schools "failed to deliver an adequate core curriculum outside of religious education" (2003)26. In 2005 he said "I worry that many young people are being educated in faith-based schools, with little appreciation of their wider responsibilities and obligations to British society. This growth in faith schools needs to be carefully but sensitively monitored by government to ensure that pupils receive an understanding of not only their own faith but of other faiths and the wider tenets of British society"33.
Sir Cyril Taylor, who heads the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and is a government adviser, says that schools that are overwhelmingly Muslim should be replaced with schools serving a mixed community and highlighted problems with policing and protecting children in such segregated areas.34
47% of all headteachers believe there should be fewer, or no, faith schools. Only 9% think there should be more.34
Social psychologists, based on data from over 800 studies, argue that segregating children by religion causes increased aggression and violence between the different groups.
Prof. Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate, at Harvard in his book "Identity and Violence" argues that classifying people by religious identity "can animate dangerous divisiveness" (2006)8.
Politicians think they should be abolished. Tony Wright, Labour MP, said that after Sep. 11, Muslim faith schools look "like a mad idea"16. Former Minister with the Scottish Executive, Sam Galbraith, called for the abolition of "faith schools" (2006), saying that they lie at the root of sectarianism. Lord Moonie, the former defence minister and Kirkcaldy MP, said religion should have no role in the education of children.34
Alan McDonald, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, said faith schools belonged to another time.34
Aside from experts, the British public themselves are highly suspicious of schools that divide children by their religion. In 2005 a poll found that 64% thought that the government should not be funding faith schools at all35, and, many thought that faith schools should be illegal. In 2013 it was reported again that polls reveal "a majority of people in Great Britain are against Government funding of faith schools"36.
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper..
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source..
(1996) Religion in the Modern World: From Cathedrals to Cults. Paperback book. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
EUMC. Published by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, Vienna, Austria.
(2006) Muslims in the European Union: Discrimination and Islamophobia. Paperback book.
(1996) Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour. Paperback book. 3rd edition. Published by Hodder & Stoughton, London UK.
(1999) Social Psychology. Paperback book. 6th ('international') edition. Originally published 1983. Current version published by McGraw Hill.
Ramadan, Tariq. A Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University.
(2004) Western Muslims and the Future of Islam. Paperback book. Published by Oxford University Press.
The Independent. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper.