Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Faith schools

I made a (brief) appearance on Nicky Campbell's 'The Big Questions' show talking about faith schools- you can see it here. Listening to the debate in the studio, it struck me that a lot of the criticisms of faith schools could equally be levelled at schools that are not faith-based. It also struck me that faith schools have a lot of work to do in communicating the benefits that they bring the wider community as well as people of their own faith.

Whatever the arguments in favour or against, the notion that you can change the governance, leadership, ethos, community relationships of a third of our schools without a deeply destructive impact on the education of a generation of young children is preposterous.

So it's time that the debate moved on from the shrill pro/anti religion debate by proxy and moved on to a practical discussion of ensuring that each school makes a contribution to whole community.

That is an issue for schools, Ofsted, local education authorities, the Schools Adjudicator as well employment tribunals and other courts: access should be fair and equal as legislated for, employees should not be unfairly discriminated against as outlined in employment legislation and challenged in the courts, and schools should demonstrate that they provide an exceptional education and promote cross-cultural understanding/ community cohesion. Many faith schools (and others!) don't meet all these provisos and they should be legally and administratively challenged when they do not. But 'faith' is a bit of red herring in all this.

On Friday night, I heard a comedienne (who happened to be Iranian but I don't think that's relevant) describe her schooling in the 1970s, "I went to christian school in the 1970s. We used to just call it school in those days." I think that sums it up nicely....there is a broader and divisive cross-culture agenda occurring and the issue about faith schools is just a current aspect of that. It will be something else next....

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