Further evidence, if any were needed, that Education Secretary Michael Gove is determined to destroy our secular (i.e. comprehensive) education system, a process that began under the last government, and favour faith schools. The Catholic Herald reports that he advises that Catholic schools can avoid “unsympathetic meddling” by secularists if they take up the Government’s offer of academy status.
The British Humanist Association is sponsoring a petition on the Government’s new website, calling for the teaching of evolution to be mandatory in all publicy-funded schools, and to stop the teaching of creationism and “Intelligent Design” being taught as scientific theories.
To sign the petition, click here.
They present themselves today as trendy, progressive schools who welcome parents with alternative views. However, what they keep well hidden is their loony mystical beliefs. Steiner founded a philosophy called “Anthroposophy”, a sort of mystical mish-mash of ideas which includes the concept that the human race are “evolving” through the different races, with black people being “of childhood”, Asians “degenerate” and white people, of course, being the apogee of the evolutionary tree. Many Anthroposophists teach at Steiner schools today — and certainly form the bulk of their teacher trainers — and greatly admire Steiner.
Today, the Department for Education and Skills is interviewing the people who want to open such a school in Frome. If they get the go-ahead it will give the green light to others, inclduing the people who want a Steiner school in Suffolk. We’ll be talking about this at our September meeting.
Since our post on the proposed Fullfledge free school in Suffolk, our supporter and correspondent Esther Fidler has met some of the people who plan to set up this school, and has blogged about their lack of qualifications or credible objectives. On the influence of Steiner’s ideas and the responses she got to her questions, Esther wrote,
I began to get the impression that knowledge, unless gained specifically from a (possibly unqualified) class teacher was not encouraged; the idea of a mystical, esoteric belief system based upon reincarnation and karma being the foundation of a school which does not encourage finding out information through books, TV or the internet was beginning to make me feel distinctly uncomfortable.
Successive UK governments have been mucking about with our education system for decades, but it seems to have been almost completely dismantled the previous Labour government, which introduced specialist schools,and academies, and the current government. The comprehensive system may not have been popular with everyone, but it was possible to fix it without destroying it in the process. Nowadays, the emphasis is on parental choice, which usually means that those who shout loudest get the most and their choices aren’t necessarily informed.
The Conservative’s Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, who’s never been short of an opinion or invitations to appear on the telly, has a thing about “free schools”; schools free to more or less do what they like, at taxpayers’ expense. Toby Young, also famous for being famous, is their champion, which ought to be enough to make most people think twice, if not several times, about the soundness of the concept. The Free School movement originated in Sweden, where it hasn’t been the huge success that its enthusiasts would like us to think it is. The main beneficiaries seem to be children from more privileged backgrounds, who have all the advantages anyway. In the UK, the idea has been seized upon by religious organisations, so there’s concern about what children will be taught and about children being segregated by religion, at public expense.
Now a group of parents and teachers want to open a free school in Suffolk based on the principles of Rudolph Steiner, the Fullfledge Ecology School.
Holywells High School in Ipswich has become an academy. At one stage, it looked as though the Church of England might take over the school, which has had problems for years and was placed in “special measures” by government Ofsted inspectors from 2001-2004, but the Swedish organisation Kunskapsskolan made the successful bid. The school will now be called the Ipswich Academy.
When will Messrs Gove and Pickles stop dismantling our state education and welfare systems, and handing them over to religious organisations? How will we ever put them back together again, when they’ve finished messing about with them?
In education, under Gove’s leadership, the changes are encouraging evangelicals. The Everyday Champions Church, based in Newark, wants to take advantage of Mr Gove’s free schools idea, to open a new school.
The trouble with RE (or one of the troubles with RE – there are several) is that it attracts teachers who think religion is a good thing, and consequently are less inclined to encourage any sort of criticism. There is bias in the way that they teach the subject. You might argue that an atheist RE teacher (and yes, there are some) could show bias against religion, but any teacher who is doing the job properly should avoid personal bias. In Suffolk, the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) stresses that RE is to learn about religion, and to learn from religion. It’s the second part of this that worries me, as it depends how you interpret “learning from”. It’s assumed that, in general, religion is a good thing.
In Sweden, it will soon become illegal to teach any religious doctrine as if it was true. Andrew Brown, in the Guardian, reports:
The Swedish government has announced plans to clamp down hard on religious education. It will soon become illegal even for private faith schools to teach religious doctrines as if they were true. In an interesting twist on the American experience, prayer will remain legal in schools – after all, it has no truth value. But everything that takes place on the curriculum’s time will have to be secular. “Pupils must be protected from every sort of fundamentalism,” said the minister for schools, Jan BjÃ¶rklund.
If only this could happen here!
Postscript: My thanks to someone on Twitter who pointed out that the Guardian article dates from 2007. However, it seems that Swedes did do what they said they would (pdf), though if anyone can shed any more light on this, please let me know.
In answer to my appeal for an update, I had a message by email and Twitter from Shockwave, as follows:
My Swedish friend answered your question about Religion in schools.
Hope that makes it clear(er).
Ekklesia reports on the results of a YouGov poll commissioned by ITV at around the time of the Pope’s visit. They show that a school’s religion doesn’t necessarily come top of their priority list.
Factors such as performance of the school, how easy it is to get into, the area the school is in, curriculum (which may of course have a religious influence), class sizes and facilities all seem to have been more important for parents.
Throughout the current debate about faith schools and the Conservatives’ determination to muck about with our education system so that we have more “academies” run as faith-based independent schools at public expense, the example of Northern Ireland has been conveniently ignored. One of the main reasons why the Troubles lasted so long was because of religious segregation. Those of different faiths or no faith were largely invisible. Several generations of children went to segregated schools, continuing to demonize each other and never mixing.
The integrated schools movement started in 1981 with the foundation of Lagan College, thanks to the efforts of parents who wanted a better way of life for their children. Read more about it on the website of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, and ask yourselves why so many people in England are determined to move in the opposite direction?