Here’s a programme I intend to watch tonight. More 4 today, Wednesday 18 August at 9pm. I guess it will also be on 4OD later.
It’s the Dawkins on Faiths schools documentary mentioned earlier. It will be interesting to see the angles covered: bias in science lessons is likely as Dawkins is a scientist, but I would also like to see discussion of the admissions process and, hopefully, some probing questions to politicians. Why does no major political party oppose faith schools even though the majority of the public don’t want them?
UPDATE: I thought it was very good indeed. I think Dawkins managed to put the case across very well and none of the pro-faith schools arguments were in the least bit convincing. Things I liked best:
The Church of England’s spokesperson who argued that children needed to “experience” faith “lived” at school as part of the justification for forced, collective worship. Weasel words indeed.
The couple who had it hinted to them that they should help pay for repairs to the church roof to get the vicars letter. In fairness, the church is question disputed it, but there are similar stories in a recent Government investigation into admissions policies.
The Muslim science teacher who couldn’t answer the “Why are there still apes?” creationist canard. I’m not suggesting – and nor did the film – that all faith schools science teaching is like this. But with areas of the curriculum controlled and inspected by a faith organisation this is a danger.
Finally, I found the interview with Charles Clarke the most revealing. (Was he the only politician to be asked for an interview, I wonder.) He’d gone from opposing all faith schools to allowing new ones – on the grounds of fairness to all faiths. His argument that abolishing faith schools would close 4,000 schools was pathetic. No, it wouldn’t, it would change their character by taking control of admissions and RE away from them.
I suspect politicians are afraid of the flack they’d get from closing faith schools not that that there’s any real practical difficulty involved. I’ve written before about the hysterical pro-faith coverage in a some newspapers when they perceive faith schools as being under attack. Ed Balls has said that his worst time as Minister for Education was when he tried to make some (not that far reaching) changes to the admissions policies of faith schools.
According to this news release from the British Humanist Association:
Before MPs have had a chance to debate the Academies Bill, the government has already stated that it has no plans to prevent creationist teaching in its new “faith” Academies, citing its desire to free schools from prescriptive curricula. This is remarkable given the fact that it is nonetheless requiring all of its new Academies to teach RE and hold daily acts of collective worship.
My emphasis. As I wondered earlier would it be possible for someone like Richard Dawkins to set up a Free Thinking School only for it to be compelled by law to hold acts of worship. On the other hand, a religious group could set up a school and would have no statutory requirement to teach basic scientific fact.
I really don’t understand this desire by all UK Governments to promote religion in schools. Even a Government prepared to let some schools ditch the National Curriculum. Why is this? I genuinely don’t understand.
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.
I expect things will become clearer over the next few months, but it looks like the new Coalition Government is set to oversee the creation of many more faith schools. The National Secular Society comments.
This doesn’t surprise me about the Conservatives as they have always promoted faith schools, but the Lib Dems had, before the election, a policy that would, if not reduce faith schools, enforce employment and admissions equality on them. Some religious vested interests got quite jumpy about this. Seems that this is not a priority when you are cutting coalition deals.
It will be interesting to see how many “free schools” and “new academies” are run by religious groups. At present this aspect of it seems absent from much of the news coverage. It may, as the NSS suggests, increase the number of faith schools much more dramatically than the last Government managed.
This now means that none of the main parties have a policy to reduce or restrict the unfair practices of such schools.
..if you define a government minister as “good company”. According to the Telegraph David Milliband, an atheist, is sending his son to a faith school.
Unusually, for the Telegraph they give space to the anit-faith schools position:
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, which seeks the abolition of faith schools, said: “Mr Miliband joins the thousands of parents forced into hypocrisy by the education policies of his own government.
“It is a vicious circle because, as faith schools get a reputation for better results, the most assertive – and, I suppose middle-class – parents choose them and that pushes the results up even further.”
Leaving aside the myriad of inaccuracies in these stories, do they think faith-schools are so popular that they are a good way to beat the Labour Government and build support for the Tories? They should read the evidence that shows many parents don’t want faith schools (an example here).
I should stop reading the damned thing.