Cable voices concern over faith school intake

The Guardian reports on what it (somewhat exaggeratedly) terms a “furious row” between business secretary Vince Cable and Michael Gove, the education secretary:

A row has broken out within the coalition over the expansion of faith-based schools, with the business secretary, Vince Cable, writing a furious letter to Michael Gove‘s education department accusing him of flouting the 2010 coalition deal.

Department for Education officials, acting on Gove’s direct orders, had undermined the Liberal Democrat/Conservative deal by intervening to ensure a pair of proposed Catholic schools in Cable’s Twickenham constituency would be able to select almost their entire intake on the basis of religion, Cable complained.

In a brief but irate missive to David Laws, the Lib Dem education minister, copied to the office of party leader Nick Clegg, Cable wrote: “A serious problem has arisen whereby DfE officials, in evidence to a court case, appear to be acting in contradiction to the coalition agreement in relation to faith schools and contrary to the express intention of the Education Act 2011.” He concluded: “Can you intervene with the department to rectify this situation?”

The disagreement centres on a particular case in Cable’s constituency and he wrote as a local MP rather than a minister, but it highlights the tensions between the coalition’s two pivotal education figures. Cable’s department handles higher education while Gove is taking an increasingly centralist approach to shaking up the schools system.

The row began with the decision by Conservative-led Richmond councilto hand £10m of land and assets to the Catholic church to set up two new voluntary-aided religious schools, one primary and one secondary. Such schools, if oversubscribed, can give more than 90% of places to Catholic children, and a local consultation document proposed doing this.

* Nick Thornsby is Thursday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs here.

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12 Comments

  • mike cobley 29th Nov '12 - 2:02pm

    Faith schools have shown that they are sympathetic to propagating views that are anti-science, patriarchal and generally authoritarian. We should be curtailing their influence on society, not encouraging their expansion.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 29th Nov '12 - 2:18pm

    One Faith School that has a close association with many within the Government staes about their religious practices:

    “Worship during a boy’s time in the school is designed to meet his spiritual needs at each stage in his development. As well as the regular chapel services, there are numerous optional opportunities for worship.

    Boys in their first two years worship in Lower Chapel. Boys in their third year have their own assembly, but attend services in College Chapel on some weekdays. Boys in their fourth and fifth years usually have a choice on weekdays between a service in College Chapel and an assembly in School Hall, and on some Sundays, along with boys in their third year, are given a choice between Choral Communion in College Chapel and an address in the Farrer Theatre. Services in both chapels follow the practice of the Church of England.

    Confirmation services are held twice a year, and boys wishing to be confirmed are prepared by the school Chaplains.

    Roman Catholics have their own Chaplain who offers Mass on Sundays and every weekday evening. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is regularly available and Confirmation is administered once a year. Roman Catholics take part in all daily school services of a non-sacramental nature.

    Boys of the Jewish, Islamic and Hindu faiths are excused Sunday Chapel if their parents wish, but are expected to take part in school services on weekdays. Instruction in the Jewish,Islamic and Hindu faiths is given during the time of Sunday Chapel by the Jewish, Muslim and Hindu Tutors.

    Not every Etonian would call himself a committed religious believer; many have doubts which they can and do express freely. However, up to two thirds of the boys are confirmed during their time at Eton, and the climate in the school is sympathetic to Christian life and practice.”

    Of course is not a state funded school, so one may say that it does not matter what they do, but why should ‘Faith’ be supported in the independent system so vigorously, and considered so bad in the State system?

    On a personal level, I am actually uncomfortable with the whole concept of ‘Faith Schools’, but I am equally uncomfortable with the Rich having real or perceived benefits, that the poor may also need/require.

  • Old Codger Chris 29th Nov '12 - 3:44pm

    R Uduwerage-Perera – “Why should ‘Faith’ be supported in the independent system so vigorously, and considered so bad in the State system?”

    Because faith schools in the state system are paid for almost entirely by taxpayers. Why should the majority population be prevented from sending their child to a publicly-funded school merely because they don’t have a letter from a priest? (Or an imam or rabbi?).

  • Richard Dean 29th Nov '12 - 10:35pm

    I agree with Mike Cobley. By definition, faith schools seek to present children with information witjhin the context of a faith. That can be fundamentally in conflict with LibDem idea of balance, fairness, mobility, and reversibility. But a religion is just an organized group with a view, and such groups are vital parts of society – we usually only challenge them when their views are dangerous. The biasses Mike mentions are significant dangers, but my guess is that VC just did his duty as a constituency MP, and will likely end up accepting whatever Gove decrees.

  • The fundamental issue here is what led the Conservative-led Richmond council to hand £10m of land and assets to the Catholic church to set up two new voluntary-aided religious schools and what were they doing by not placing covenants on the £10m of public capital to safeguard future access by the whole community.

  • So VC and local Lib Dems supported the proposal for the schools, but the issue is actually about the SoS taking an interest regarding the court case and the admissions policy.

    However, as it is a VA school, the admissions policy is (courtesy of the CAB):
    “……. determined and administered by the governors in consultation with the local education authority and other relevant schools in the area.”

    So it’s not really anything to do with central Gov anyway, if VC really has a problem perhaps he should either go local or perhaps ask for the rules to be changed to strip away local decision making.

    As a PS – they weren’t “handed” the land (which implies it was given), according to the minutes of the committee it’s going to be leased to them.

  • So called ‘Faith’ schools of all kinds should be opposed & wherever possible phased out, not supported. They cannot help but be divisive. Also Roman Catholicism (along with Anglicanism, Methodism etc etc) is not a ‘Faith’, it is a doctrine. Christianity is the faith. Same argument applies to the divisions within Islam and the divisions in all the other faiths.

  • nigel jones 1st Dec '12 - 11:55am

    This presents lots of questions.
    Is there a need for a new school in the area ?
    If so, then the church can be invited and helped to run one, but as service to all the people, not just for Roman Catholics, so Vince’s point is valid. One would need to lay down clear rules about the breadth of education and the tolerance of different religious or non religious views. If the church cannot agree to that then unless one believes in banning private schools, the church can set up its own at its own expense. As a Christian I would much prefer churches to be involved in the state system, with the state’s demands for breadth of outlook and educational content. Many faith schools do this, because unlike those that hit the headlines they realise that faith is essentially not about doctrine, but about an approach to life which includes the moral and spiritual in a free and caring society.

  • coldcomfort 2nd Dec '12 - 3:40pm

    Simon your words about the curriculum may well be true about many so called ‘Faith’ schools but that is not the point. For a start that objectivity is entirely in the hands of the staff & Governors. It could easily NOT be the case. Also, when you strip out the doctrinal politics, most Faiths are inclusive – not sectarian – and that is what should be encouraged. It is unlikely to happen all the while parents with enough money can move house & pretend a devotion in ordewr to get their child into a particular school.

  • Anyone who has served as a school governor will know something of the difficulties encountered with ensuring a fair and equitable admissions policy is maintained between geographic proximity and socio-economic status.

    Oversubscribed schools in high value residential area are prone to a post code lottery Top comprehensives surrounded by privileged little circles . This applies to comprehensives and popular faith schools alike.

    Catholic schools that are situated outside of the better-off areas have a student mix much closer to the desired ratio of 50% catholic and 50% non-catholic. Not being over-subscribed provides the room for a more inclusive admissions policy.

    The answer to this problem ultimately is the development of high quality schools in less prosperous areas . Good quality local schools will reduce the popular demand for faith schools that are often perceived as offering a disciplinary and ethical environment more conducive to academic achievement than nearer local schools.

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