Pity the poor faith schools. According to a pamphlet published today by the Centre for Policy Studies, penned by Cristina Odone, they are under threat as never before from “a government … aligning itself with a stridently secularist lobby”. Few apart from than Odone can have noticed this dangerous development.
State schools are increasingly “embarrassed” to talk about God, leaving a moral vacuum which has been filled by celebrity culture and the X Factor, a leading independent school head said yesterday. Tim Hastie-Smith, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) which represents 250 private schools, said: “The retreat of God from education has left a moral and spiritual vacuum and the breakdown of any shared value system.
The British Humanist Association has issued legal proceedings against the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) over their decision not to allow the study of Humanism in a Religious Studies GCSE in the same way as religions are studied. The exam board OCR had included Humanism alongside religions in its proposed GCSE in Religious Studies, announced in April 2008, but a decision by the QCA has meant that it could not be included.
On first appearances 12-year-old Caitlin McNabb is very much like any other schoolgirl. Sitting on the sofa with her parents, Wes and Jane, at their home in Greenwich, south-east London, Caitlin talks excitedly about her friends, her favourite subjects and the new school year. But there is one difference between Caitlin and the other pupils at Plumstead Manor: she is reluctant to believe everything she is told. “I was in a geography lesson and there was a lot of talk about ‘this is how old the Earth is’,” she says. “So I just said, ‘there are different sides to it if you look at it in a religious way’. And the teacher said, ‘Oh yes, yes that’s true’.”
Europe’s first state-funded school for Hindus, which receives its spiritual guidance from the Hare Krishna movement, opens today in London amid continued concern about the divisive nature of faith schools. Krishna-Avanti primary school, in the north-west borough of Harrow, home to about a quarter of the UK’s Hindu population, is welcoming 30 children to its temporary base at Little Stanmore primary school.
The OCR exam board planned to become the first to include the subject alongside six major religions in its draft GCSE syllabus. But its proposal was rejected by Ofqual, the exams regulator, which ruled that humanism was a “body of belief” and not a religion. The British Humanist Association (BHA) described the decision as a “kick in the teeth” and is seeking a judicial review.
Discrimination on the grounds of faith, race, gender, sexual orientation and disability is outlawed under UK and European human rights law. There would be an outcry if any school overtly refused entry to a black child, or turned down an Asian teacher on the grounds of race, yet schools can routinely refuse entry to children on the grounds of their religious adherence, or lack of it, because faith schools are exempt from the equalities legislation.
Creationism and intelligent design should be taught in school science lessons, according to a leading expert in science education. The Rev Prof Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, said that excluding alternatives to scientific explanations for the origin of life and the universe from science lessons was counterproductive and would alienate some children from science altogether. He said that around one in 10 children comes from a family with creationist beliefs.
Radio 4 joins CERN on 10 September 2008 as scientists attempt to discover more about the origins of the Universe by recreating the aftermath of the Big Bang. The experiment is one of the most complex and significant of modern times – and one that raises a lot of questions!
Children start their new schools this week for the 12th year under Labour. Who could have predicted that more pupils than ever will be going to religious schools this term, as the churches boasted gleefully? Pews empty but faith schools multiply. There are about 14,000 non-religious schools, and nearly 7,000 faith schools.