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Education - Faith Schools

I wrote the following article for the Parliamentary Monitor


By Lynne Jones MP, October 2005

In encouraging faith schools, the government believes the ethos and character of faith schools helps them perform better.  I would challenge this conclusion.  Any selective school can achieve better than average results, and faith schools are usually selective.  They take less than their share of deprived children and more than their share of the children of more ambitious parents, a point the Government should be well aware of, as Ofsted said when the Government was expanding faith schools in 2001 "Selection, even on religious grounds, is likely to attract well behaved children from stable backgrounds,"[1].  This covert selection goes a long way towards explaining their apparent academic success.

I do not accept that the ethos of church schools is somehow superior to that of non-denominational schools where staff show just as much love and professional dedication.  It is comprehensive schools, genuinely open to applications from all races and religions that have the authority to claim they have the good of our whole society at heart.

Religious schools discriminate against everyone not of that faith - in their admissions and employment policies, their curricula and their assumptions about religion.  Some faith-based schools will not even try to serve the whole community and will divide children not just by religion but also ethnically.  Northern Ireland and Bradford are examples of what happens to communities where children are educated separately and grow up knowing little of each other.  In the wake of the 9/11 atrocity in New York and the 7/7 bombings in London it is even more important all groups in our society feel included and are given every possible opportunity to integrate.

I uphold the right to freedom of belief and understand the desire of parents to bring up their children with the family's beliefs.  However, it is not the job of publicly funded schools to instil a religious faith in children and the state is not obliged to provide schools catering for every shade of belief or philosophy.   The state has its own interest in ensuring children grow up to be responsible and capable citizens.  Schools should, of course, teach about religion and philosophy but they should do so in an objective, critical, and pluralistic manner.

We need to have all our children educated in schools that believe concern for others is not a religious virtue, but a human virtue; and where all the faiths are equally respected. 


[1] Times Educational Supplement, 16th February, 2001.

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