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Holy bananas

This morning’s superstrangeness:

Ministers are being urged to stop faith schools in England selecting pupils and staff on the basis of their religion.

Accord, a new coalition of secular and religious figures, wants the government to stop state-funded schools engaging in what they say is “discrimination”.

As an atheist I find a lot of things to do with religious faith incomprehensible, so maybe I’m missing something that’s obvious to a believer, but in what way is a school with no religious requirements of pupils or teachers a “faith school”?

30 comments to Holy bananas

  • foreigner

    There’s an important distinction to be made here: As far as I can see, the criticism is only related to the schools’ admission requirements, not their curricula.

    What the protesters are saying is just that religious schools can keep on brainwashing children, as long as they allow untainted children inside as well.

  • Pedant

    It would all depend on what you might mean by – that is, your definition of – “faith schools”.

  • George Atkisson

    Does this mean that the madrassas willl have to admit Christian and Jewish staff?

  • No doubt it just comes down to wanting to destroy the ethos of good schools. It usually does.

  • RRS

    The crux of this issue seems to arise from the fact that the “Locally-Controlled” state funded schools do not produce as good results or provide as good conditions as are available in those that are “Faith-Based.”

    Note also the commentaries on what society should be, and how state funding should be directed to those ends. We shall always have the echoes (via the “media”) of the voices of those who “know better” what is best for all the rest.

  • Steve

    Oh it is. Just have faith. Anything is possible.

  • oldandrew: No doubt it just comes down to wanting to destroy the ethos of good schools

    Any school that teachs creationism instead of science, and that teaches people to believe irrational nonsense instead of thinking for themselves, cannot by definition be “good”.

    Religion is harmful and oughtn’t to be encouraged. Consequently faith superstition schools should be abolished.

  • RAB

    Well to be horribly practical here,

    this is the money quote.

    Children’s minister Kevin Brennan said faith schools were a long-established part of the state school system in England.

    “Parents should be able to choose the type of education and ethos they want for their children. The bottom line is that faith schools are successful, thriving, popular and here to stay.

    Accord will be quietly ignored.

    The teachers also appear to be whinging because they cannot get jobs in those good schools.

  • Bod

    And Cabalamat’s precisely the guy to stamp out all those faith schools, for the good of the children.

    Then he can go on to abolish the next social heresy he doesn’t agree with.

    When he’s elected Emperor. Sheesh.

  • pete

    Faith schools are nothing of the sort. The faith involved pays hardly anything to get its name above the door, all the staff wages and most other costs being paid by the taxpayer, and the faith element of the schooling is ususally minimal and token.

    So-called faith schools are more often than not just a pseudo-selective alternative for pushy middle class parents. If people want faith schools with staff of that faith they should pay for them out of their own money, not everyone’s.

  • James

    What the protesters are saying is just that religious schools can keep on brainwashing children, as long as they allow untainted children inside as well.

    My understanding is that faith schools tend to follow the national curriculum, or at least the CofE and RC ones do, who knows about Madrassas.

    oldandrew: No doubt it just comes down to wanting to destroy the ethos of good schools

    Any school that teachs creationism instead of science, and that teaches people to believe irrational nonsense instead of thinking for themselves, cannot by definition be “good”.

    Religion is harmful and oughtn’t to be encouraged. Consequently faith superstition schools should be abolished.

    Ummm… I am pretty sure that CofE and RC schools teach the same science GCSEs and GCEs as any other school, they don’t get an exemption.

    I don’t know about Catholics, but literal creationism is not associated with the Church of England, it’s mostly about a ritual called the Tombola.

  • manuel II paleologos

    Any school that teachs creationism instead of science, and that teaches people to believe irrational nonsense instead of thinking for themselves, cannot by definition be “good”.

    You assume that one cannot think for oneself and still be religious. Sounds like you’ve really cracked life’s mysteries there – aren’t you lucky?

    What about Gaia? Is that allowed?

  • Wilson

    Attempting to limiting the beliefs of others, no matter how superstitious or silly those beliefs may seem to you, is just another type of authoritarianism. Freedom of belief is the most personal liberty. As such it’s the most sacred.

    The freedom to raise one’s children as one sees fit is a part of that. Unless there’s abuse involved, the state should stay out of it as much as possible.

  • Government meddling in education just makes me sick.

  • Pete: I agree… no one should be forced to pay for education they disagree with:

    Faith schools are nothing of the sort. The faith involved pays hardly anything to get its name above the door, all the staff wages and most other costs being paid by the taxpayer, and the faith element of the schooling is ususally minimal and token. So-called faith schools are more often than not just a pseudo-selective alternative for pushy middle class parents. If people want faith schools with staff of that faith they should pay for them out of their own money, not everyone’s.

    Indeed, but then I do not agree with ‘state education’ at all. *All* education should be paid for with the parent’s money.

    Cabalamat:

    Any school that teachs creationism instead of science, and that teaches people to believe irrational nonsense instead of thinking for themselves, cannot by definition be “good”.

    Agreed.

    Religion is harmful and oughtn’t to be encouraged.

    Agreed.

    Consequently faith superstition schools should be abolished.

    Oh? And why do you or anyone else get to decide what is and is not going to be allowed? I think Socialism, Keynesian economics, Satre, Day time Soap Operas and Plato are harmful irrational nonsense too. Should I demand that also be ‘abolished’? The rational thing is get the state out of the education business, where it has never belonged, and let the market sort it out.

  • If children are State Property, then the “Accord” proposal stands, and the State can dicates who goes to what school.

    If they are their parents’ and families’ property, then it falls, and the State cannot do so.

  • Laird

    Follow the money. It’s an old saying, but nonetheless true, that “he who pays the piper calls the tune.” If the State is going to fund schools, whether secular or “faith”, sooner or later it’s going to dicatate all of their policies: hiring, admissions, curriculum, etc. And you know what? That’s as it should be.

  • I don’t know about Catholics, but literal creationism is not associated with the Church of England, it’s mostly about a ritual called the Tombola.

    I do know about the Catholics. They have no truck with Creationism or any other form of Protestant Fundamentalism (the clue is in the word “Protestant”).

    As an aside, did you know that Georges Lemaître, the physicist usually credited with putting forward the Big Bang theory, was a Catholic priest?

  • veryretired

    The error being made in this schooling issue is the funding by public monies, not the validity or irrationality of the religious beliefs involved.

    An ongoing debate in the US is the use of education vouchers to parents to allow them to pay for their children’s schooling in any school they choose, public or private.

    Even though I have spent a significant amount of money over the years sending my kids to private schools, I oppose the voucher idea for the very reason exemplified by the situation cited in this posting—whoever controls the funding can dictate the terms of the educational process, and its content.

    Often the restrictions of the 1st amendment to the Constitution are misinterpreted as prohibiting the involvement of religion in politics. In fact, the prohibition is just the opposite, banning governmental involvement in religious activities, because state involvement invariably means state control, and state control invariably means coercive measures of one kind or another.

    State funding is the camel’s nose. Once in, the PC, multi-culti, egalitarian rest will soon follow, until, as this post’s quote suggests, it will be illegal for religious schools to discriminate against those who don’t share their religious viewpoints.

    Private funding by those who agree with the philosophy underlying the school’s educational approach, religious or not, eliminates this threat.

    As an aside, the Catholic church has no problem with evolution as a scientific theory. I was taught it in a catholic prep school, along with very advanced DNA theory, decades ago in biology classes. Creationism is a subset of biblical literalism, which the Catholic church does not teach any longer.

  • Unpicking this debate from a libertarian point of view is quite tough. Voluntary aided faith schools are funded by the state to do all the usual curriculum stuff but are expected to pay for the faith extras themselves. They are usually a school of choice, and in that sense can be seen as representing parents wishes a bit more than what other state schools do. Why they do that is probably a combination of the better discipline they can offer, community cohesion, the fact they can select ( there is a definite bias towards getting nice kids into faith schools) and the fact that their ethos represents a bulwark against the latest drivel to come out of the government. The type of religion on offer in these schools doesn’t really pose a threat to society and as they do a far better job of teaching everything than other state schools, on balance they are better for pupils (even if they do get some dogma thrown in with their actual knowledge of science, history etc.)

    Hence, abolishing them (or taking away their powers) is probably a bad thing. It is, however, possible to have a faith school “ethos” without the pupil selecton criteria. Brits are obsessed with pupil selection powers, almost assuming that a school will be defined by its intake, but they are really not: some schools do much better than others, whatever their intake. Hence, the ongoing pattern of policy on the left is to target these better performing schools and ensure that they are suitably “reformed”. But it is possible to abolish selection and still allow good schools to thrive (and hopefully spread their superior teaching strategies), and faith schools can certainly contribute to that: http://www.civitas.org.uk/press/prcs75.php

  • Sunfish

    Point of information:
    Are the UK’s “faith” schools owned by governmental entities or by someone else? Also, do parents stroke a tuition check each year or where does the funding come from and by what mechanism?

    Nick C said:

    They are usually a school of choice, and in that sense can be seen as representing parents wishes a bit more than what other state schools do. Why they do that is probably a combination of the better discipline they can offer, community cohesion, the fact they can select ( there is a definite bias towards getting nice kids into faith schools) and the fact that their ethos represents a bulwark against the latest drivel to come out of the government.

    There’s probably another factor at work. Parents who put in the effort to get their kids into these schools are probably also more motivated than the average to actually parent their children properly and take an interest in their education. Meaning that the children in question would have a decent shot at success even if they went through an undesirable school.

    Doubly so if the parents chose to put the kids into a school that actually imposes duties on the parents: don’t know about there, but here, it’s not uncommon for private schools to actually REQUIRE parents to chaperone field trips, show up for special events, etc., as a condition of enrollment. This gets rid of the kids whose parents can’t be bothered, which increases the proportion of kids whose parents are involved, which improves outcomes, which makes the school look better.

    That’s why I’m skeptical of any numbers that suggest that one school is better than another.

  • Rob

    “That’s why I’m skeptical of any numbers that suggest that one school is better than another.”

    If that is the case why do parents move heaven and earth (no pun intended) to get their children into them, in the case of private schools paying a fortune to do so?

    “My understanding is that faith schools tend to follow the national curriculum, or at least the CofE and RC ones do, who knows about Madrassas.”

    They follow the Saudi national curriculum. Behead the infidels!

  • Andrew Duffin

    Nick Cowen is the only one making any sense here.

    The English state education system is much more subtle and complex than most people (particularly people from across the pond) realise.

    These “faith” schools are mostly (but not all) small, village-based, Church-of-England originated and of high quality. There is huge competition to get into them because of the results they achieve and the social ethos they embody. The competition is managed by a nod to religious selection (which remains legal, for the time being) but in fact is pretty much “niceness-based”.

    I know people who sang in church choirs for years, despite being decided atheists, just to get their children into these schools.

    All of this – the success, the social standing, the quality, the smallness, the village base, and the church angle, but particularly the success, explains why New Labour hate them so much.

    Anything that show up the bog-standard comp as a failure has to be abolished somehow.

  • “Are the UK’s “faith” schools owned by governmental entities or by someone else? Also, do parents stroke a tuition check each year or where does the funding come from and by what mechanism?”

    This is a complicated area but my understanding is that the faith communities often own the facilities (school buildings etc.). Remember, with many of these schools as part of the established Church of England, that won’t look awfully different from the state owning them anyway. They cannot demand extra funding or support from the parents themselves, but to what extent donations might be entirely “voluntary” is occasionally open to question. The faith group is expected to pay for the extra costs of a religious education, not the parents, which in small communities would obviously make for a very hazy distinction. But these are in the vast majority mainstream schools (CofE, catholic, Jewish) with large communities around them.

    And of course, the very fact that a school is difficult to get into makes it more attractive for middle class parents. But how can a school afford to set a high barrier to entry in the first place, but by being better than the other schools around? Once a school is established as good, middle class families will find their way into them one way or another, thus masking the actual “value added” quality of education beneath all the extra (and interacting) benefits of having a school full of middle class children. But that doesn’t make the school bad (or cheating by having good students to start with), it just means that it lacks any competition!

  • Gabriel

    The state paying for something may give them the power to destroy it, but it doesn’t give them the moral right to do so. The destruction of the Grammar School system, of the Grant Maintained schools and of almost every last vestige of educational standards in this country was wicked. Full stop.
    The government’s attempt now to destroy what little has been salvaged from the wreck of comprehensivisation is no less wicked. Privatisation is a long term goal; the short term goal is preservation.

  • Slartibartfarst

    @Perry de Havilland:

    The rational thing is get the state out of the education business, where it has never belonged, and let the market sort it out.

    In my experience, one needs to be careful in accepting statements prefixed with words like “The rational thing…” or “The logical thing…”, as they could be founded on neither reason nor logic, yet they carry the implicit “Well if you don’t agree with this then you are being irrational/illogical.”

    Therefore I would ask the question: What degree of probability is there (where is it always demonstrated so, for example) that the market will be able to achieve this “sorting out”?

    @David Davis:

    If children are State Property…If they are their parents’ and families’ property…”

    An amazed question from me: Are children (legitimate or otherwise) legitimately regarded as “property” in the UK now? I had not realised that things had come to that.

  • “Therefore I would ask the question: What degree of probability is there (where is it always demonstrated so, for example) that the market will be able to achieve this “sorting out”?”

    The evidence, both theoretical and empirical, is becoming pretty overwhelming. The Cato Institute have the US and international evidence covered in detail: http://www.cato.org/subtopic_display_new.php?topic_id=64&ra_id=3. Buy my book for a take on the British system: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Swedish-Lessons-Schools-Freedom-Education/dp/1903386675/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1220259818&sr=8-1

  • MarkE

    There are actually two questions here; should the state fund education; and should the state control education.

    The state is very happy to claim that, of course it should control education because you can’t expect someone to pay for a school they dispprove of. This has been the excuse for the destruction of grammar schools; why should parents of children who don’t go to grammars pay for them (but why then should parents with children at grammars pay for comprehensive schools or the old secondary moderns and why should child free people pay for schools at all)? This is, of course, the strongest argument against state funding of education. It is not essential however that we all approve of the things that are bought with our taxes and I don’t see the state raising the same objection to providing long term health care for long term violent prisoners; to taxing pacifists to pay for the armed forces and even wars; to providing abortion/IVF/cosmetic surgery etc on the NHS. We all pay taxes for something we don’t approve of (probably more here than most).

    An acceptable but imperfect compromise would be to have a system whereby the funding follows the child, but the parents choose the school with no state involvement. If any head could run their school on whatever lines they prefer, and any parent could apply to any school of their choice, subject only to meeting the admissions criteria set by the head, at least the system would be removed from political control.

    Under such a system some parents would seek out the best school for their child (it has been suggested that only 15% need do this to start to raise standards for all, but I can’t remember where); some parents would seek out schools that conformed to their prejudices (whether madrassahs or any other faith, white supremecists or anti educational like the hippy schools that had so much publicity in the 1960s), but this is likely to be an even lower figure. Most parents are likely to be fairly apathetic and merely send their child to the nearest school with a place to offer. This is what LEAs do at present, very expensively and inefficiently. While I would not be delighted at paying for some types of school, this would be an acceptable price if it offered a realistic chance that my own children had a choice where and how their children were educated.

  • Slartibartfarst

    @Nick Cowen:

    Thankyou for your helpful comment.

    “Evidence”: I would respectfully suggest that theory cannot constitute “evidence” of anything except thought/belief (e.g. the theory of Creationism), and the same goes for empirical observation – which is “…used because it works, or is believed to”. Thus it would be unwise to expect to attempt to build a solid piece of reasoning on either thing, and so your statement “The evidence, both theoretical and empirical, is becoming pretty overwhelming” would seem to be false – that is, not necessarily true or proven. (It is not my place to comment on those who believe in unproven things.)

    Thankyou for the pointers (URLs) and which I followed with interest. The CATO Institute is rather American-orientated, as you point out, but interesting nontheless. Your book too looks like it might be interesting, so I shall try a library for a copy, first off. (I noted that the unappreciative swine at Liberal Conspiracy called your book a “pamphlet” though.)

    I also took the liberty of following your ID link to civitas.org.uk. I was very impressed when I read through the “About” page – some notable achievements there – and I would certainly expect you to be better informed than I on subjects such as faith schools and funding, for example.

    However, I was alarmed when I read there one of the single largest collections of oxymorons that I have yet come across, where it says civitas is:

    “Facilitating Informed Public Debate…In the last year or so, seminars included Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui on ‘Islam and Liberalism’, Dr Iftikhar Malik on ‘Islam, Liberty and Modernity’, …Ziauddin Sardar, on ‘The compatibility of Islam and Democracy’…”

    This looked like dhimmitude at its best, and it is a good thing to see that Britain’s schools are finally being encouraged to see the light.

    My alarm subsided a little when I read of a rumour that civitas were also apparently planning to invite some other thought leaders, as, for example, Eric Hobsbawm on ‘The role of Stalin, the gulag and totalitarian tyranny in improving civics literacy”. It is a good thing not to forget the incalculable value and benefit that such pragmatic things have brought to humanity.

    Actually, after reading the civitas site, I am considering renaming one of my own blogs to “Cell No. 9″.

  • Paul Marks

    Guy Herbert is quite correct.

    The whole basis of a faith school being a faith school is “discrimination” – choosing who teaches, what they teach, and how they teach is.

    All this is discrimination – as is all freedom.

    “But where there is government funding there can be no discrimination” – in which case where there is government funding there can be no freedom.

    Actually I think that is inevitable and is one reason why religious groups (and non religious groups) should refuse government funding.