Letter to the East Anglian Daily Times
The secular basis of our state education system is being undermined by the increasing involvement of religious organisations in schools. A secular system means that children of all faiths and none are educated together, in the same schools. In Northern Ireland parents set up the Integrated Education Fund to ensure just that, after Catholic and Protestant children had been segregated for decades, resulting in violence and death through religious bigotry. Has the British Government learned nothing from this?
At their Easter conference, NUT members opposed the increase in faith schools and Tony Blair’s appeal for more faith groups to sponsor his academies and become partners in the running of his proposed trust schools. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers share these concerns, and so do we. The British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society are campaigning against faith schools, and an increasing number of parents oppose them.
Neither parents nor faith communities have a right to expect the state to help them inculcate their particular religious beliefs in their children, nor further their own projects, customs or values through their children. Public money should not be used to create division and segregation. If you agree, write to your MP.
Secretary, Suffolk Humanists
(Learning Together – resources for the campaign against faith schools.)
On 26th April, a letter from Richard Martin of Soham was published, ending with "the Bible tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. (Proverbs 1:7)" I don’t expect to persuade religious people like Mr Martin that they’re wrong, but it’s still worth responding for the benefit of those who may not have thought much about the issue, so I wrote –
In response to my letter against faith schools, Richard Martin (26th April) claimed that “they provide … a more moral framework for life than is given in many secular schools,” adding, “We have plenty of evidence for this in the amount of crime and family break-up nowadays.” What evidence? According to a Home Office report, 68% of the prison population has a religious faith, including 39% who claim to be Anglicans and 17% who say they’re Catholics – about the same proportions as the population as a whole. Fear of God doesn’t appear to deter criminal behaviour.
A positive school ethos is the result of firm leadership and caring staff. If some faith schools appear to have fewer problems than others, it’s for a good reason; they have a selective admissions policy. Recent statistics from the Department of Education & Science show that Anglican and Catholic primary schools take fewer children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds than the average, and Prof Anne West of the LSE found that voluntary aided and foundation schools that decide their own admissions are more likely to use selection interviews and less likely to give priority to pupils seen as being harder to teach, such as those with special needs.
The principle of secular education for all is supported by religious people, not just atheists. At the recent Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ conference, the Rev Chris Wilson, Cambridge Regional College chaplain, said, "We need to be concerned that some of the faith communities have agendas which are at odds with reason and progress and the interests of science. My aspiration would be to have a secular education system in which all faiths are honoured and respected."