Though an increasing proportion of the UK population has no religious faith, or has a faith other than Christianity, children are still expected to participate in collective worship that is “broadly Christian” at their morning assemblies. Successive education ministers have said that they’d review the situation, yet done nothing about it. Now even the National Governors’ Association has said that a religious assembly every day should be scrapped because they are “meaningless”...
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.
A few years ago, while visiting a local high school, one of the girls told me that her little sister had been told that their parents would go to hell because they were atheists. Who told her? Her primary school teacher. Did they complain? I believe they did, though I don’t know what the outcome was.
In another local primary school, a class had been doing some science about colours. The head teacher visited the classroom and was admiring a picture of a rainbow. She asked the artist where the colours came from. As the child began to explain what she’d learned about the refraction of light, the head teacher interrupted her. “No, no, no,” she said, “God did it!”
With examples like this of religious nuts imposing their beliefs on children, it’s good to know that such behaviour is generally frowned upon in state schools. Teachers who aim to make the classroom a religiously-neutral zone should be supported. However, religious bullies can make life very difficult.
In Surrey, Muslim parents who’d accused a primary school headteacher of “Islamophobia” were allowed to drive her out of her job and wreck the school’s religiously neutral ethos, while the county council “failed in its duty to protect her”, according to the High Court, who awarded £400,000 damages.
The BHA received grant funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission for a project which aims to increase understanding of the ‘religion or belief’ equality ‘strand’. As part of this, the third in a series of conferences was held in Birmingham on 22nd January this year. We’ve previously posted a report from the Daily Mail, which misrepresented the purpose of this work.
With her permission, here is a report on the conference from Alison Rawlinson from Coventry & Warwickshire Humanists, which was published in their newsletter. Alison attended the conference with her husband Mark.
The James Hemming essay prize will be awarded in July 2009. The competition is open to any student at a UK school or college studying for AS or A2 levels who will not have passed his or her 19th birthday by 31st March 2009. The subject is “In life, the meaning comes in living”. First prize £1000. Do you know someone who might enter?