Archive for November, 2009

Faith Schools Not Divisive (it says here…)

30/11/2009 1 comment

Thanks to the Rev Dr Peter Hearty for pointing this out. It’s an article claiming faith schools are better on “community cohesion” than community schools. An idea that is, to say the least, counter-intuitive and against previous findings.

However, from the original BBC article we find:

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chairman of the Accord Coalition, says inspectors should consider admissions policies and the religious education curriculum of faith schools. … “The most pressing issue is whether the criteria used by Ofsted are sufficient. … inspectors should also consider the impact on cohesion of discriminatory admissions and biased RE lessons. “Occasional meetings with other groups have little merit if the children move in closeted circles most of the time and do not receive a broad education in class.”

The idea that a report like this could be commissioned without reference to RE lessons and admissions criteria is amazing – unless of course you already had an outcome for the report in mind.

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Atheist Bus Campaign – The Sequel

18/11/2009 Leave a comment

Today, the British Humanist Association launches a series of billboard adverts against the labelling of children after their parents’ beliefs – and thereby focussing on faith schools. It looks like this issue won’t go away. From the BHA press release:

Andrew Copson, BHA director of Education, said, “The labelling of children becomes even worse when it is implemented as a matter of public policy. One of the issues we hope to highlight with these adverts is the continuing and increasing segregation of children according to parental religion in state-funded “faith schools.” Social cohesion and preparation for life in a diverse society is best achieved in inclusive community schools, where children from different backgrounds learn with and from each other without being divided by labels that they are not old enough to have chosen for themselves.

You can see the posters here.

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Politician talks sense – all hell breaks loose

16/11/2009 Leave a comment

Here’s an interesting article from WalesOnline. Note, Edwina Hart only suggested that faith schools be allowed to wither away; she didn’t even call for their abolition. Yet still her remarks have to “be put into context” as part of a damage limitation exercise. Where does the hue-and-cry come from? Not, as far as I can see, the parents of Wales, but the churches determined to keep this important area of influence that they have.

I have however, learned about another organisation opposed to faith schools – the Accord Coalition.

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Religious Ethos Doesn’t Raise Standards

13/11/2009 Leave a comment

Faith schools in the news, again. This time in the Church Times. To quote:

A report published yesterday by Theos, a think-tank, and the Stapleford Centre, found that there was little evidence to support the widely held view that a Christian ethos made a difference to pupils.

This should be of no surprise to anyone who has followed the topic, but it is good to see a religious think-tank admitting it. The – often real – differences between faith schools and their community rivals is due to the ability of the FS to select its pupils. There is also – and I am complicit in this – the self-selection by parents. This has been gone over many times, so I don’t want to re-hash it.

The article is interesting, however, for some of the other statements:

There was some evidence that students at … schools with a Christian ethos generally displayed a more positive attitude towards religion and better spiritual health. But the available evidence for either was “very limited”, the report said.

Leaving aside what “spiritual health” is and whether it actually means anything at all, it is interesting that this pushing of a Christian Ethos (or we might say “indoctrination”) is having little effect on the attitudes of pupils. I can think of two possible reasons for this:

  1. The report concerns new academies with a Christian background. These are likely to be run by a mainstream Church – probably the CofE – and as such are less likely to be engaged in aggressive indoctrination. Many CofE schools in my experience are not particularly “churchy”. It would be interesting to compare with Muslim or Roman Catholic schools
  2. The proselytizing of the schools may actually have a negative effect. I have heard Christopher Hitchens remark that religion in schools is a great way to produce atheists. Again, this is anecdotal, but it would be good to see further research.

It will be interesting to see if this story has any political impact.

Am I a Cheat?

03/11/2009 5 comments

School admissions, those who cheat to get into their chosen school and, inevitably, faith schools are in the news again.

I followed some of the coverage on Radio 4 yesterday. Predictably, a lot of issues were conflated and much of the coverage was about parents hiding their real address, but it did seem to imply that people who attend church to get their child into their preferred school are also guilty of cheating.

Am I cheating? The local guidelines imply that attending church such-and-such times for such-and-such  years before the deadline is the criteria for getting the vicar’s signature. If I do this – whilst remaining a steadfast atheist – am I cheating? In terms of the letter of the guidelines, No; in terms of the spirit, Yes.

But what needs pointing out is that these rules are unfair. My child will be denied a place at the nearest state-funded secondary because we are not Christians. (More accurately, because we don’t have a faith; I believe Muslims are given preference over non-believers in the local rules.)  Yet, we pay the same taxes as the believers to fund this school – don’t fall for the line that the Church supports these schools to any significant degree: all running costs and 85% of capital costs are met by the state.

In this situation, I will continue to “cheat” and attend church.