Thursday, 13 October 2011

Faith Schools

I recently wrote about a rather peculiar aspect of British Politics, that certain Bishops are given a seat by right in the House of Lords where they can vote for and against legislation that has passed through the House of Commons. Today I talk about another aspect of the British system: Faith schools.

Faith Schools are schools of a 'religious character'. About 20% of all high schools have such a religious character and nearly 40% of primary schools have a religious character. Faith schools are not like Lords Spiritual - they make up a large amount of the educational system of Britain. The question is, is having these schools justified. Is it even sane?

Richard Dawkins has tried to raise our conscience regarding telling children what religious faith they are, and faith schools may serve to reinforce the notion that the children are of a particular faith. Dawkins has produced a documentary called "Faith School Menace?" in which he sets out his problems with Faith Schools. It contains an infamous scene where he speaks to pupils and teachers at a Muslim school and exposes their ignorance of the theory of evolution and the obvious indoctrination that takes place there.
Richard Dawkins Visits a Muslim School by blindwatcher

The schools are allowed to teach their own religion syllabus which is not subject to Ofsted inspection. While some schools may teach other faiths, and even about secular moral stances such as humanism, there is no obligation to do so and so there are plenty that don't and instead just teach the dogmas of the particular religion that sponsors the school. This seems to me to be a great way of shielding young children from challenging viewpoints - not giving them a fair opportunity to make up their own mind. Which religion, if any, that is correct is a genuine controversy to be taught, and many faith schools don't teach that controversy. Furthermore, in classes which are designed to discuss ethics and social issues, faith schools tend to teach these issues from the perspective of the faith behind the school.

As a way to further shield pupils from dissenting views, the schools can even hire people based on their religion. This means they can refuse to hire someone based on their religion, or lack thereof!

In short, there are potentially bad consequences of faith schools. They can serve as propaganda machines for a given faith, and instead of controls and balances put into practice to defend children from this propaganda, the faith schools are given legal passes to avoid scrutiny in this regard. I'd like to be able to trust them to adhere to the curriculum, but I know there will always be those that don't. And without any inspections, they are given free access to some of the most vulnerable minds in our society.

Not only that, but they are inherently discriminatory and biased. They discriminate on the religious views (or lack thereof) of both the pupils that can be taught there and the teachers that can work there. Their selectionism means they can pick the children who are more likely to do well in education (but saying it is on grounds of religious views, and even doing it unconsciously) to bias their results versus the average as a means to persuade us they produce better educated children.

All of this might possibly, maybe, be forgiven if they were private institutions. But they are mostly funded by taxpayers, and I don't think we should be paying to have children given less than the best information about each other and their religions. As it stands, a sound majority of the British public are against making new faith schools, 64% going as far as to agree with the statement, "the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind"

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