Battle of Ideas 2014
Sunday 19th October 2014
Frobisher Auditorium 2
Many critics charge state faith schools with allowing social segregation through the back door. They argue it is wrong for a secular state to finance parents’ religious beliefs, as they believe it entrenches social segregation. For some, Ofsted’s current investigation into an alleged Islamic plot to take over a number of Birmingham schools and teach Islamic beliefs reveals the dangers of segregation and indeed of questionable values being taught in faith schools. For the British Humanist Association, a child’s schooling should not be influenced by the religious background and beliefs of their parents. Some, such as Richard Dawkins, even claim religious teachings are a form of ‘emotional abuse’.
And yet, faith schools often do far better than non-denominational comprehensive schools and enable children from all backgrounds to succeed. Such institutions have formed the bedrock of schooling in the UK and their long experience and results suggests they are skilled educationalists. For this reason, despite the backlash against faith schools, such institutions are over-subscribed, with ambitious parents desperate to secure a place for their son or daughter. No amount of bad press seems to dampen middle class belief that they are the right kind of school to provide a first class education.
For critics, however, this is part of the problem. The Fair Admissions Campaign criticises high-performing faith schools for their ‘middle class bias’ regarding school selection based on religious faith as a way of handpicking pupils from privileged and educationally supportive homes. But are such campaigns motivated only by a desire for social inclusion and diversity within schools? Or are they uncomfortable with the particular values religious communities want to pass onto their children? Should a secular society provide resources for faith-based teaching on the grounds of parental choice or even better educational outcomes? Or should religious beliefs be kept entirely out of state-run schools in the name of equality and social solidarity?
Dr Jonathan Roman, Rabbi; Chair, Accord coalition for inclusive education
Kevin Rooney, Politics teacher and head of social science, Queen’s School Bushey, Blogger at Fans for Freedom
Michelle Tepper, Associate, Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics
Richy Thompson. Campaigns Officer (Faith schools and Education) British Humanist Society
Neil Davenport writer; head of sociology, JFS Sixth Form Centre; contributor, spiked
TIEMO TALK OF THE TOWN – REVIEW
Well this was an interesting debate! We had Dr Jonathan Roma, a Rabbi fighting the case for removing faith or religious teachings in schools, and an atheist; Kevin Rooney fighting to keep faith schools. With faith schools actually doing far better than non-faith schools academically this seemed to be a no-brainer.
However I was interested to hear what the Rabbi had to say. Dr Romain believed that we should focus on inclusive practice and that we are giving our children the wrong message when we encourage segregation. He made the personal choice of sending his own children to the local community school so that they socialised with children who did not ‘subscribe’ to a religion.
Both Michelle Tepper, a Christian (and associate of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics) and Kevin Rooney strongly stated that parents should have the right to choose what school they want to send their children to. On that basis Tepper sent her children to a faith school as this reflected her own beliefs and values. The rights of parents should be defended was the strong message reinforced throughout the debate from these two advocates of faith schools.
I found myself thinking about a previous debate that I had been to which led to discussions on the disempowerment of parents/carers. This to me was another example of how the rights of parents/carers were gently being stripped away. Indeed, for some to claim that religious teachings are a form of emotional abuse (Richard Dawkins) leads me to question some of the thinking behind the statements made. Whether the school is a faith one or not should be beside the point. The focus should be on achievement. Is there historical evidence from a particular educational environment that children do well socially, emotionally and educationally? If they do well in faith or a non faith school then that would suggest that inclusion in this sense is not an issue. There is a great deal of diversity within schools and religion is just one of these. So to remove faith schools to promote inclusion in this case is possibly not a strong enough argument.
Richy Thompson (who is a campaigns officer for the British Humanist Society) had evidence which showed that faith schools ‘cherry picked’ pupils but this was refuted by Rooney who reminded the panel that OFSTED could provide evidence to show diversity with regards to deprivation of pupils attending faith school illustrating that faith schools were inclusive in their admissions process. In my opinion don’t all schools have selection processes that can be perceived as excluding? We have schools who select on gender, social status (if you can pay, you can join), whether your sibling attends the same school and geographical proximity to the school of your choice.
If we want parents/carers to work in partnership with educational establishments then listening and responding to what they want for their children (if not unreasonable) should be the way forward.
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Battle of Ideas 2014 – Tiemo Talk of the Town reviews
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