It has widely been reported that Richard Dawkins may be thinking of setting up – or help set-up – one of the Coalition Government’s new Free Schools.
Whatever else one thinks of the Free Schools idea, secular groups setting up “free-thinking” schools is interesting because the Tories (promoters of Free Schools) are enthusiastic supporters of faith schools, the Established Church, etc. It may not be what they intended; most secularists up ’til now have worried that Free Schools will lead to an increase in religious bodies controlling schools.
It will also be interesting to know if such Free Schools can ditch collective worship. I read that they will be free from the National Curriculum but – as I understand it – collective worship is not part of the National Curriculum but is statutory.
Currently having a bit of a spat in the comments section on a Christina Odone article (on page 3 at the moment) – not with the Blessed Christina herself – mainly with someone called geoffreysmith1.
Although it’s pretty standard fare for faith schools apologists (faith schools teach morality and discipline, they cater for the children of the faithful who should have such schooling provided for them) it does raise an interesting question.
I am pretty sure that at my church the vast majority of the parents of school-age children attending are only there to get the vicar’s signature. (See this post for background.) But I only know this anecdotally. I am very friendly with two sets of parents attending church and know that none of them is the slightest bit religious – in fact we often compare notes on the bits we really can’t stand in the service: for me it’s the blood sacrifice and all the I-am-not-worthy parts; for the mother of one couple we know it was the smug superiority in a recent sermon that nearly had her walking out.
To be fair, there are also the obviously religious Mr & Mrs Faith-Head in the congregation. Most parents I do not know and so don’t know why they are there – or how genuine their belief is.
geoffreysmith1 says in my response to my comment that evidence in this area is hard to come by: if you are pretending to be religious in order to get into the school of your choice you’re obviously not going to say so!:
Oh, you do sound depressed and disconsolate!
All that research and nothing to show for it.
Perhaps the evidence you are trying to find doesn’t actually exist?
Have you thought of that possibility?
I have thought of it but discount it in the light of what I’ve experienced. However, I could be wrong: it would be good to have some hard figures to back this up. As far as I can tell, no-one has done this research. Partly because, as I have said, if you are in my position you are unlikely to admit it publicly, but partly because no-one has a great interest in doing this research: certainly not the Church as it would undermine the credibility of its – already declining – attendance figures. Nor the Department for Education as it might undermine its parental-choice-good and faith-schools-good mantras.
Possibly the British Humanist Association or the Accord Coalition might want to do the research. But they may lack the resources or the access to congregations and schools that would be needed.
It may be difficult to do this research but is probably not impossible. Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola recently produced a report called Preachers who are not Believers (PDF) on a similar topic. It would be good to see someone have a go at doing this for faith schools.
Another good article from the NSS on the pointlessness and possibly damaging nature of religious schooling and RE.
It mentions something in relation to the rights of parents vs the religious requirements of schools:
Yes, parents can exclude their children from such lessons, but as we have seen at the NSS, few would actually do it. Even the most passionate secularists are unwilling to make their children into the odd ones out in class.
When my children first started Primary school I considered withdrawing them from compulsory prayers (but not RE) but did not do so. Partly because of the reasons the NSS suggests (it is probably bad enough being a 4 year old in a big school without being marked out as different from everyone else) but partly because I soon learnt about the local Secondary situation and thought that this might play against my chances of getting them into the school of my choice.
As far as I know, no-one at my children’s primary has been withdrawn from prayers: I think some children whose parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses have withdrawn their kids from RE (but not prayers) as they do not want them to learn about other faiths….
Here’s a thought: what if when, and if, both my children are at the faith Secondary school I withdraw them from RE and/or prayers? I believe the law would be on my side. How would the school react?
(I think it unlikely, however, that I would do such a thing for some of the reasons already stated. Unless – and this is important – either of my children asked me to.)
From this article by Christina Odone we learn that Richard Dawkins is to put together a documentary for Channel 4 on faith schools. Ms Odone (who, by the way, is solely responsible for my avoidance of the New Statesman magazine) is really having a go at Peter Tatchell, but manages to get in a few half-truths and outright lies about Dawkins in as she does so. It seems she is not happy with anyone presenting a programme about an aspect of Religion unless they are overwhelmingly sympathetic towards it. Good job she’s not responsible for political reporting.
Anyway, this post is not about that. When Richard Dawkins puts together his documentary I wonder if he is going to cover the dilemma of parents like myself? What are the feelings and views of those going to church for admissions reasons? It will be difficult to get anyone to go on camera if they are still going through the process; it might be possible to get someone who no longer has children going through the school to do so but that might appear a bit outdated.
I have visions of parents being interviewed in shadow with a little caption saying the words are being spoken by an actor. What volumes that would speak about the faith-based admissions policies that this Government and the last one seem so keen on.