Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The nub of the faith schools debate

Jonny Wright and LibDem Voice have written about faith schools in the wake of Nick Clegg's comments about them over the festive season.

The nub of this debate is "what kind of faith schools are we talking about?"

If we are talking about the CofE model as clarified by the Lord Dearing commission, that is where there is an absence of segregation and a policy against any "bussing in". That is, they take from the local community. So, you end up with CofE schools in the north of England which have 90% Muslim pupils.

The model and the practice is not flawless but I agree with that sort of model where there is no segregation and "bussing in" from other areas to fill a school up with pupils from one religion.

If we are talking about the opposite - i.e schools which only practically take pupils from one denomination or religion - then I am dead against that sort of model. And Linda Jack (On Hug-a-hoodie comments) is right to highlight the example of Northern Ireland.

I support, incidentally, Evan Harris' proposed bill of a few years ago (2004 or early 2005 I think) which proposed an end to inequalities in the faith school system. I note that the Bill was supported by Davids Rendel and Trimble while they were still MPs. David Rendel has often said that he passionately believes that the key for a harmonious future in Northern Ireland is to encourage mixing of pupils from both denominations at school-age. I very much agree with that.

By the way, I am so taken by Linda Jack's comment on Hug-a-hoodie that I am going to reprint it here. I thoroughly associate myself with Linda's remarks:

An interesting and important debate. This is one of the few areas in which I struggle with the arguments. You are so right to say that there is no such thing as a truly neutral upbringing. As an ex RE teacher one of my objectives was to encourage my pupils to question. Frankly if someone's faith is worth anything it is surely up to challenge. Fine to say, for example, as Anglicans we believe y, not quite so fine to teach in a way that leaves no room for manoeuvre or choice. And I say that as a Christian, my faith is meaningless if it is imposed, or it is offered in a vacuum. So, on faith schools, we need to have the debate in a context that recognises the current inequity, but does so against a backdrop that acknowledges the impact of segregation in, for example, Northern Ireland.

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