Opinion: Secularise education

At our Spring conference we are going to be debating two highly contentious issues around education policy: tuition fees and how we should approach the question of faith schools.

With the latter in mind it is interesting to look at the recent report published by The Runnymede Trust. Entitled ‘Right to Divide?’. It is a comprehensive report which consulted parents, teachers,education experts, religious leaders, local authority officials and pupils. So, it cannot be easily dismissed as reflecting the experiences or biases of one particular grouping.

Rather than try and cover all 76 pages of the report in this piece I intend to focus on the 6 key recommendations. Let’s start at the top with the headline grabber:

(1) End selection based on faith.

The report rightly justifies this thus:

Faith schools should be for the benefit of all in society rather than just some. If faith schools are convinced of their relevance for society, then that should apply equally for all children. With state funding comes an obligation to be relevant and open to all citizens.

Nothing particularly controversial there from my perspective. Faith schools that receive public money should be open to the entire public and serve society as a whole not just a particular faith group. Interestingly, the report confirms the views of opponents of faith schools by saying that within them:

Too often, there remains a resistance to learning about other faiths when faith schools are seen as the spaces in which singular faith identities and traditions are transmitted, rather than as spaces in which faith is ‘lived’.

Secondly, the report proposes that:

(2) Children should have a greater say in how they are educated.

It notes that the debates around faith schools are centered around issues of parental choice but that there is little discussion about a child’s right to choose. One of the characteristics of faith schooling is that the child is essentially indoctrinated in the religion of their parents which, of course, takes away their right to determine their own ideas.

It is worth noting that the rights of a child to determine their own ideas has nothing to do with protecting the child or any other sphere in which it can be contended that parents rights and perspectives should necessarily override those of the child. We are talking about how they develop free of influence or pressure into citizens in their own right. Allowing the wishes of a parent to override the child in this instance is more than a little contradictory for liberals who hold that religion in adult life should be a matter for individual conscience. Should this not also be the case for children or do we support the right of parents to arbitrarily indoctrinate their children with their own ideas??

The report’s third proposal actually addresses a point that is often ignored; namely, that faith schooling undermines the provision of religious education in the first place. It says:

(3) RE should be part of the core national curriculum.

I actually still feel that it should be an optional part of the curriculum and indeed the third recommendation is the point where the recommendations of the report actually start to come into contradiction with the ‘headline’ two. It is perfectly possible to teach awareness of other cultures without making it ‘religious’ education; obviously the issue would arise but the notion that making RE part of a compulsory curriculum actually fully addresses that is not to my mind correct. It is slipping back into the assumption into the only thing that defines different cultural groups is different religious beliefs. Cultural identities are tricky and complicated things which cannot be defined in such a limited way.

So, we move onto the fourth proposal:

(4) Faith schools should also serve the most disadvantaged.

The thing about proposals (4), (5) and (6) is that they assume that (1) doesn’t happen. An end to faith-based selection will, of course, radically address the problems that these three proposals seek to address. However, it is worth reproducing the text offered in justification of (4) to emphasise a point often made by opponents of faith schools:

Despite histories based on challenging poverty and inequality, and high-level pronouncements that suggest a mission to serve the most disadvantaged in society, faith schools educate a disproportionately small number of young people at the lowest end of the socio-economic scale.

In other words, selection by faith is by no means just selection on grounds of faith; other considerations weigh heavily in the decision.

Number five relates to a point I made above:

(5) Faith schools must value all young people.

In justifying this it says that “people cherish facets of their identities beyond their faith”. So, cultural identities are more than religious faith then? In a rather odd twist, proposal number six is:

(6) Faith should continue to play an important in the educational system.

Apparently, “faith schools should remain a significant and important part of our education system”. Ending faith-based selection should, of course, see the necessary adjustments made in culture but you cannot argue that they remain in the form that they did because in ending selection by faith you have ended the very thing that defines them as faith schools.

It seems to me that at this point the reports authors lost their nerve to argue that education should be fully secularised. As I have said before secularism is freedom for all faiths (or non-faith) and privileges for none. We should not lose our nerve. We should argue that the secularisation of education (and indeed wider state policy) is the way forward if our society is to balance out different and often conflicting demands and rights.

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  • David Morton 9th Dec '08 - 12:45pm

    What exactly do you mean by “Secularise” education ? Abolish faith Schools ? Nationalise their assets ( at a fair price or without compensation?) assumming the HRA lets you, close them down, sack governing bodies and then reopen them with different names?

  • The key is that all schools should teach about faith, but preach about none. The problem is that, inevitably, this doesn’t happen.

    In Scotland, we have a particular issue with faith schools (predominantly Roman Catholic) and the divisions this inevitably causes in certain parts of Scottish society, particularly in Glasgow but also across the central belt. Although vauge attempts have been made to overcome this by co-locating schools on one campus, until there is real integration there always will be a divide.

    Faith teaching in Scotland goes much deeper than in England, I believe – for example, Religious Education is the only subject which by law must be taught in all Scottish schools. Also, all education committees in Scottish local authorities must include a number of representatives from churches, who can vote on issues relating to all schools (not just faith ones) and can, by siding with one party or another, potentially influence the outcome of a committee vote over the head of democratically elected councillors. It’s a practice which I wasn’t aware of before becoming a councillor last year, and frankly one which shocked me – why should unelected individuals be able to manipulate a vote against a democratically elected administration?

    As a Liberal, I’m uncomfortable about having separate, state funded faith schools. I’ve no objection to these being in the private secotr, but why should council taxpayers money be used to support religion?

    I’d like to see a situation where, in Scotland at least, religious schools are given the opportunity to opt-out of the state sector and go private, and where all state schools become officially secular (teaching about religion, but supporting none in particular.) Only once we do this will we, in Scotland, really be able to start tackling the sectarian issues which are obvious to children from an early age – not only because of the church they (may or may not) attend on a Sunday, but also because of the school they go to.

  • KL wrote:

    “but why should council taxpayers money be used to support religion?”

    It isn’t just Council Tax, it is ALL tax. Organised religion is subsidised directly by all of us through the charitable status given to religious institutions.

    I object to my money being used to pay for religious indoctrination, just as I would object to it being used to pay for atheist and materialist indoctrination.

    What is Mr Celgg’s view on the matter? Ah yes. I recall now. While he is personally an atheist, he isn’t really, because he doesn’t want to upset anybody. And he will allow his children to be brought up as Roman Catholics because he doesn’t want to offend his wife.

    Just a thought. If he is that scared of his wife, how will he measure up to the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Dick Cheney?

  • 1) Absolutely, and with an end to selection based on faith you will remove the whole point of sectarian schools in the first place, and we can get rid of them.

    2) Absolutely agree. Parents are free to attempt to inculcate their offspring at home into whichever belief system they themselves follow, and while the education system has no business attempting to contradict this process, it also has no business assisting it. A secularised education system would offer a level of sanctuary or insulation from the pressures of conforming to the beliefs of one’s family or community to those children who desire it, while not offering any barrier to the beliefs of those who do not.

    3) RE should be part of the core national curriculum so long as it is Religious Education – an unbiased examination of different beliefs systems and how they interact in our communities – rather than Religious Instruction.

    4) and 5) Well duh. Surely this is so obvious it shouldn’t need stating?

    6)Totally disagree. Sectarian schools are a cancer on our society and they should be banned outright, whether state-funded or private. However, I’d accept steps 1) to 3) above as a stepping stone toward that end.

  • Sesenco, the difference between one’s spousal half and Murdoch is that the missus actually holds your balls in the palm of her hand.

  • Christopher Blount 9th Dec '08 - 1:55pm

    The argument to secularise schools in the maintained sector may well be fair in pure tax terms (and is another strong case for hypothecated taxes if a taxpayer objects), but think of the position of a low income family with strong religious convictions. They could not fund private education, so what options are open to them?

  • “Excuse me missus, can we have our friend’s balls back please?”

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Dec '08 - 1:59pm

    OK, so what is this really about?

    The great majority of schools with an active faith element are Catholic schools. The faith element in Church of England schools tends to be much more nominal.

    As the report says, Catholic schools were mainly set up by poor Irish working class people. Until recently, no-one could give a damn about them, if those papists wanted to educate their kids in their silly ways, let them.

    But in recent years these Catholic schools have been doing quite well. Pushy middle class parents say “we want a bit of that”. Now they don’t want to actually put the effort in which the Catholic community has spent building up those schools, or the general parish ethos and all-pull-together attitude which gives them the edge. No, they just want to take without giving.

    What is actually being asked for here is for pushy middle class parents who know how to use the system to be able to use that system to get places for their kids and push out kids of Catholic parents, particularly recent immigrants, who don’t.

    Regarding the claims that these schools cause division, where in England are the marauding gangs of ignorant Catholics who hate everyone else and are cut off from general English society, which this line assumes must exist?

    The reality is the big question in Catholic circles is “why do our kids all tend to drop out once they get into their late teens?”. If the job of these schools is “indoctrination”, they’re doing a stunningly bad job at it.

  • On the subject of education I’m not certain that diversity of schools is such a bad idea – especially since all schools are different anyway.

    So long as the kids themselves get the highest possible standard of advice and counselling, access to the best possible facilities and mentoring and pass sufficient credible tests to qualify them for a productive and fulfilling life then I’m not really bothered about what type of school it is.

    We should really be able to ensure that there is sufficient choice of schools in any area that if the pupil is unhappy for whatever reason they have access to their preferred options.

    Maybe we should start looking at reformulating enrollment to the local authority level rather than to the individual school.

  • Matthew Huntbach wrote:

    “Regarding the claims that these schools cause division, where in England are the marauding gangs of ignorant Catholics who hate everyone else and are cut off from general English society, which this line assumes must exist?”

    The crude answer is that the marauding gangs of ignorant Catholics discovered that their priests were a bunch of paedophiles using Irish nationalism to maintain their privileged status; so they chucked the marauding once they realised it was the Church that was their enemy, not individual, rank-and-file non-Catholics.

    “The reality is the big question in Catholic circles is “why do our kids all tend to drop out once they get into their late teens?”. If the job of these schools is “indoctrination”, they’re doing a stunningly bad job at it.”

    If the schools aren’t working, then close them. Why bother throwing good Catholic money after bad? But I don’t think the Church will do that, because while the system might not be working as well as they would like it to, work it still does.

  • And he will allow his children to be brought up as Roman Catholics because he doesn’t want to offend his wife.

    Not believing in God doesn’t mean Nick has to become some sort of campaigner on the subject. At most it may simply mean that Nick is ambivalent about the religion of his children, but is happy to allow them to be raised as Catholics because he knows it means something to his wife. I hardly think that makes him some sort of downtrodden husband and it seems somewhat sexist to imply that Nick isn’t allowed to acquiesce to his wife’s wishes from time to time.

  • Hywel Morgan 9th Dec '08 - 2:19pm

    Do the churches contribute to the running of voluntary aided schools. I assume so but I’ve never seen any figure put on what that amount is.

  • Matthew Huntbach wrote:

    “Regarding the claims that these schools cause division, where in England are the marauding gangs of ignorant Catholics who hate everyone else and are cut off from general English society, which this line assumes must exist?”

    I can’t speak for England, but in Scotland you will only have to visit Glasgow on the 27th December to see the effect of this (the next Old Firm match.) I’m not talking about one section of society being cut off – it’s just that they don’t talk to each other! It’s much harder to abuse (or violently attack) someone who you’ve grown up alongside.

  • I agree with Darrell.

    Clegg has been alarmingly weak over secularism. Does he imagine the Roman Catholic Church is a liberal organisation? Does he not realise that his children being part of it aids the harm it does in the Third World?

    It is time to offer a constructive alternative which will be a basis for resolute opposition to the theocrats. I have no hope of the LDs or any other party doing that as they are too scared of the offence-takers.

  • Secularism doesn’t need to be “enforced”. It would be the natural state of affairs if people were free to think for themselves & the religious no longer had a stranglehold over enbquiring young minds.

  • Iain Coleman 9th Dec '08 - 10:19pm

    So why pick on faith schools?

    Just because some people would like their children to share their hobby doesn’t justify spending valuable classroom time on it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Dec '08 - 10:25pm

    Hywel – 15% of capital costs.

    KL – you will note I wrote “England”.

    asquith – can you show a correlation between prevalence of AIDS and prevalence of Roman Catholicism in the third world?

    Laurence – I never watch television, don’t have time.

  • Richard Church 9th Dec '08 - 10:48pm

    The issue of faith schools goes hand in hand with the befuddled issue of choice in education.

    If my local village school is a church school, what choice do I have to ensure that my child is educated in my local community without religious interference in his/her education?

    If I want my child to go to a particular school which happens to be a faith school, all I have to do is pretend to take up that faith. It happens all the while.

    Faith schools have a worse record than secular schools in educating people with deprived backgrounds and special educational needs. They are a means to selective education for middle class and motivated parents.

    Finally, what faiths and and which values are we prepared to sponsor with our taxes? and who is to make that choice?

    The Liberal answer is to scrap state funded faith schools and ensure that young people have a meaningful choice within their local community school to be informed about religion, if that is what interests them.

  • There are a lot of smokescreens being thrown up here. Let’s cut through them and identify the issues. I believe there are two:-

    (1) Should the state be subsidising organised religion, ie, paying priests to indoctrinate children with religious beliefs out of the public purse?

    (2) Should the state be facilitating the segregation of children and young people on the basis of the religious beliefs of their parents?

    In England, “faith” schools are popular because they select, something non-“faith” schools in the state sector are not permitted to do. Nothing to do with “ethos”, or Christians being better people than heathens.

    Now, before the Vatican apologists here accuse me of “prejudice” (no, Mr Raztinger wouldn’t dream of being prejudiced, now would he?), I would make exactly the same remarks about schools that indoctrinate children with atheism and materialism at the state’s expense. Or even agnosticism, for that matter. Yes, children should be taught what these various creeds are and what they claim, but they should not be told which creed or which claim is right and which is wrong. They can decide that for themselves, or not, as the case may be.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Dec '08 - 12:09am

    The web site of the Catholic secondary school I attended is here:


    that was 30 years ago, I haven’t kept any particular links with it since.
    I give it because it may be useful for people engaging in this debate to see what a RC school is like in practice rather than to suppose.

  • I agree all schools should be open to children of all faiths. Many families who are muslim often prefer to send their children to christian schools, as they appreciate the values and ethics.

    The majority of faith schools as I understand it, ARE open to children of all faiths, and DO aim to administer and run the school on the basis of a set of positive VALUES and ETHICS, rather than an establisment there to preach. Instead, they want to show their faith by offering something positive to their local community and providing a good quality service.

    There are some faith schools who do not operate this way, but naturally negativity will always be a stronger news value. There always seems to be a massive tendancy to base this debate around the few sensationalist headline news stories, rather than the reality of the way MOST faith schools actually operate.

    Any school recieving public funding should be open to children from all backgrounds who are within the catchment- whether that is religious background or socio-ecomomic.

    Having said that, the question should not be “but why should council taxpayers money be used to support religion?”… BUT “Who is offering the best service locally for taxpayers money?”. There has often been lots of talk amongst liberals about the notion that it doesn’t matter who provides a public service and frustration with the insistance of a state monopoly on public services. People have talked far and wide about how “so long as X service remains free at the point of use, why should it matter who provides it?” Yet suddenly, when faith schools come onto the agenda, this seems to go out the window!

    I’ve always been very keen on the idea of voucher systems for education, and for me that would be a more ideal way of determining this than currently stands.

    Even so… if local people believe that a faith school, or an academy, or a grant maintained school, or a specialist art school sponsored by Steadler (NB I suspect the majority of local parents would spot conflicts of interest etc I just added it as an example) will offer the best education for their children… they pay the taxes… Providing a school meets the requirements of the national curriculum (And I do agree with Wit and Wisdom here: “RE should definitely be part of the curriculum since religion plays an important role in society. Ignorance is the greatest danger of all.”) and is open to all children, well, that decision should be in the hands of local parents.

    I think its as illiberal to dictate that all schools must be secular, as it would be to dictate all schools must be religious, or must advocate hopping on one leg for 3 minutes at precisely 2pm every day. You are enforcing your worldview on those children as much as any religious school might. Children DO all make up their own minds about religion… and most other things, regardless of what school they are in, or even what their parents advocate.

    On the other hand, we should be looking to devolve these decisions further into the hands of local parents and residents. Its their tax money and their children we’re talking about.

  • Hywel Morgan 10th Dec '08 - 6:38pm

    Thanks Matthew – any idea what that translates to in £sd?

    However much, the churches might want their money back if we went for a completely secular education. There are better uses to which that money could be put.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Dec '08 - 8:38am

    I gave the web site for one particular “faith school”, and I would like those who claim these schools are about narrow “indoctrination” and teaching children to hate those of other religions to look at that website and find evidence for their claims.

    Joe, you quoted a rabbi who has, I think, a particular issue to do with conflict between orthodox and liberal streams of Judaism, which is actually what underlies his position. My concern perhaps comes from similar feelings, but works the other way round – if religious culture is pushed by small private groups of enthusiasts, the tendency is that the extremists will dominmate in teaching it. I believe that is what we see in the evangelical Christian and Muslims communities who, by and large, do not have their own “faith schools”. My own experience of the Catholic Education System is that it tends to be on the liberal side of Catholicism. The popular image of the “Catholic School” actually tends to come from small private Catholic schools, most of which disappeared when the religious orders that ran them dwindled due to lack of recruits.

    sanbikinoraion, you claim there is no evidence that the “faith” aspect of faith schools makes them better schools, I do not think it is the actual belief system which does that (although I think some of the ethical approach may help), but I have seen evidence that active community involvement by parents in any sort of social organisation is one of the key elements in children growing up well rounded and with good and mature attitudes. Well, in that case, yes of course if you are going to select children from parents who are actively involved in the community of the Catholic parish, you are going to see them do well. But this is a by-product rather than, as claimed by the secularists, deliberate and cynical choosing of those children who would do well against choice on the basis purely of parents’ religious practice.

    Secularists have not been able to develop a similar communal self-help organisation, and are jealous of the success it gives Catholics. Well, tough – go away secularists and build such a thing. Or admit it, you hate us, and you want to smash up what we have built, and leave our children to the real world where the only gods and myths and stories are those provided by our consumer masters who produce mass entertainment.

  • Matthew Huntbach wrote:

    “Secularists have not been able to develop a similar communal self-help organisation, and are jealous of the success it gives Catholics.”

    Change a few words, Matthew, and you have penned a defense of Freemasonry.

    The problem with communal self-help organisations that “help” only one section of the community is that they are inevitably socially divisive. Those of the wrong religion or race miss out.

    The reason we have the welfare state (of which you are a stout defender) is because communal self-help organisations of the type you describe had failed.

    In any event, I am not so sure that the Roman Catholic Church can be described as a “communal self-help organisation”. It is a hierarchical institution run by unelected potentates who dish out occasional charity to their own supporters.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Dec '08 - 10:51am


    I mean simply that people in the parish come together, meet, talk, with the liturgical aspects providing a framework on which to build this socialising. Liberal Democrat Local Associations work similarly, with election campaigning being the framework on which the socialising is organised.

    Do I take it from what you write that you would ban any sort of organised socialisation? That groups of people meeting together and doing things are to be smashed up by the state because that is “divisive”? That all socialising and any groups must be only those approved by the state, run in ways the state thinks are “correct”?

    I am not talking about some sort of parallel welfare state, there was more of this in the past within the Catholic community, that has largely vanished now. Not that I think, if such things were to exist, that we should ban them.In the Netherlands there is much more organisation, not just of education, but of welfare and the like, on confessional line. The oponents of “faith schools” like to raise Northern Ireland, but they are silent on the Netherlands.

    In Catholic parishes in England, the proceeds of the collection go towards the upkeep of the church building (which can be quite costly) and administration. By tradition, the collections at Christmas and Easter go to the priests of the parish – this is clearly announced – no other collections do, although priests generally live rent free in Church property. It is also a tradition that each mass is said with an “intention” and a payment is made to the priest who says it by the person asking for the intention – this is entirely voluntary. There is an occasional second collection for the administration of the diocese, there is a once yearly collection for the Church organisation internationally. All these collections are clearly announced, there is no compulsion for anyone to contribute towards them, and donations are made in a way which keeps the amount donated by any individual secret. There is a process whereby there is some cross-subsidy of poor parishes by wealthy parishes. There is no flow of wealth from the Church hierarchy downwards to anyone’s supporters.

    You may regard this as an unfair way of extracting wealth from the gullible, well I may regard pop stars and sports celebrities and the like, and the hoo-hah made to encourage people to adore them and buy their products also to be a way of extracting wealth from the gullible. Whatever, it may not be to your taste, just as pop stars and sporting events are not to my taste, but some of us enjoy our quaint ritual parctices and the socialising around them. No doubt Freemasons get a lot of enjoyment out of what they do, why do you think I would not want to defend them?

  • David Morton 11th Dec '08 - 11:04am

    the telling thing about this thread is the complete absence of discussion on the practicalities.

    1. Are you really going to confiscate the asset base of faith schools even if te HRA alowed you ?

    2. how much would nationalisation cost ?

    3. Surely no one is talking about just closng faih schools and building from scratch so points 1 and 2 come into play?

    4. Are we really going to sack huge numbers of governors across the country? What happens if they all take there bat and ball home and refuse to serve on newly secularised committees.

    5. no one has addressed the loss of the social capital and common interst that these faiths schools engender. or the demotivating effect on may staff.

    6. Are we really going to have government contractors going round state primary schools removing religious iconography? and where do you stop ? A plaque ? art work ?

    And thats before you get onto the politics of it.you’d have to be smoking something fairly strong to think this would ever become party policy.

    How many Councillors,Activists and candidates would you ose if every faith school I Britain was seen as being under threat of closure.

    And then philospohically I respect that secularism is part of the liberal spectrum but so is diversity, choice, mutual provision and local decision making.

    None of that sits well with a cetral decre to abolish faith schools.

    I respect the arguments for abolition but its really a 6th form debating society proposition rather than practical politics.

  • Matthew Hunbach wrote:

    “Do I take it from what you write that you would ban any sort of organised socialisation?”

    Don’t be ridiculous, Matthew. You know perfectly well I didn’t say that. I might, however, object to the state subsidising such socialisation if people were excluded from it on religious or racial grounds.

    “No doubt Freemasons get a lot of enjoyment out of what they do, why do you think I would not want to defend them?”

    You’re a liberal? You oppose corruption? You are uncomfortable with rich men doing each other underhand favours?

    A few years ago I was sitting in the public gallery of a magistrates court when one of my friends witnessed a barrister “show out” to the magistrate. As a result, a very obviously guilty man was not committed for trial. I guess that is the kind of thing you wouldn’t want to defend.

  • David Morton wrote:

    “I respect the arguments for abolition but its really a 6th form debating society proposition rather than practical politics.”

    The same used to be said about abolishing slavery. Too many rich plantation owners would lose out, not to mention those British industries that relied on the crops produced with the free labour.

    Gosh, Mr Morton, you are putting ideas in their heads. In order to protect “faith” schools, join a political party and threaten to walk off in a huff if organised religion loses its state subsidies!

  • David Morton 11th Dec '08 - 11:14am

    The arguments put forward here on education would presumably be rolled out across the public sphere?

    1. We’d be looking at the end of State funded chaplaincy ? Hospitals, Military,Prision.

    2. Faith based Social Work ? What about our local statutory detached youth work team whic happens to be be the methodist mission ? Our night shelter provision which is run by a Christain Charity ?

  • David Morton wrote:

    “2. Faith based Social Work ? What about our local statutory detached youth work team whic happens to be be the methodist mission ? Our night shelter provision which is run by a Christain Charity ?”

    The test must always be the following:

    (1) Is it open to everyone?

    (2) Is there propaganda and prosletysing?

    If the night shelter provides the kind of service the state wants, is open to any homeless person, and customers don’t get battered with the Bible once they go in, then I have no problem with the state paying for it.

  • David Morton 11th Dec '08 - 11:26am

    I’m not threatening to walk of in a huff I’m participating in this debate. A debate which has aired the philososphical objections but completely failed to engae in the practicalities.

    Just for effect can I summarise them again.

    What are you going to do about the RC primary school where I was a Governor? the LEA owns the building, the Church the site. Even in a slump it might be worth £1m.

    You either confiscate, nationalise or build a new school. If the existing building stays you have to go in and rip out the Iconography. Will it still be allowed to be called St Mary’s ?

    The Governors are dominated by Church appointees and parents active in the RC parish. You are going to sack them. perhaps they’ll be magnanimous enough to stay or may be they’ll respond to state bullying by sodding off and doing something else.

    We are going to use central state power to forcibly erase the history and ethos of a very popular local instituion organically linked to its surrounding community.

    Now of course you could use that argument about the KKK. however

    1. Does the existing patch work of faith schools really cause so much riment as to pass Mills harm test ?

    2. Why are they so popular ?

    3. Why does no one want to talk abut the mechanics of there abolition ?

  • It can also work the other way round, David. Should the RC Church be allowed to claim everything, including the bits owned by the LEA?

    When Surrey went fully comprehensive in 1978, Guildford Royal Grammar School was allowed to go independent without having to compensate Surrey CC for the buildings that it had funded. And the state continued to pay the newly independent school capitation fees for every pupil who had entered the school prior to reorganisation.

    I reckon the RC Church would do rather well out of the deal.

  • David Morton 11th Dec '08 - 12:14pm

    The Church could do very well. If its assets were bought out in the majority of cases and the reciepts put in trust ( I just love the fact that the practical out working of this policy is HM Treasury writing the Church a very large cheque…)

    then it could fund lots of REAL relgious education. In a minority of sites it’ll be easier for the LEA to sell its minority stake holding so well see a chain of private religious schools.

    The receipt trust fund pays for bursaries and fees charged to middle class parents who’d like a private education but can’t afford a proper one.

    It would be quite practical to run a small number of completely independent schools out side the state sector on really religious ,middle class lines with a few poor bursaries like the salad on a Big Mac.

    or perhaps we could continue with the current historic, functional fudge where the state gets all the benefit of church asets and social capital while providing a general education to all well under state scrutiny and direction ?

  • David Morton 11th Dec '08 - 2:03pm


    Those are very fair points. However the party says it wants to make it easier for parents to set up there own schools ? Where is the real danger? Your bog standard C o E comp where the religious message is probably more liberal than some capital L liberals i know …

    or a newish school set up by a group of highly driven religious parents of what ever discription. Without the checks and balances of a large nomination and LEA control?

    I suspect this is a case of being careful what you wish for.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Dec '08 - 2:04pm

    Sesenco, I am pointing out where your line of thinking leads to. It starts off with the good intention off fairness, it ends up with the state telling people how they should live their lives, with whom and how they should interact, and banning private assembly because it decides that’s for the common good. David Morton has asked you about this and since you did not deny it, it looks like you actually would want state commissioners to investigate every bit of decoration in schools, and smash it up if in the eyes of the state it is “religious”.

    Laurence, I am not a “fundamentalist”. I know your sort can’t understand any position apart from “fundamentalist” and “atheist”, but tough, there’s other people you can read who write about this sort of thing far more eloquently than I have time to do. I am happy to accept religion as an alternative set of myths and legends, source of ideas and inspiration, to that provided by Mr Murdoch and the other media moguls without being too worried about what is truth, what is analogy, what is just a nice story.

  • Matthew Huntbach wrote:

    “I am happy to accept religion as an alternative set of myths and legends, source of ideas and inspiration, to that provided by Mr Murdoch and the other media moguls without being too worried about what is truth, what is analogy, what is just a nice story.”

    Really? I thought people joined the Roman Catholic Church because they believed in the teachings of their church, not because they enjoyed the fancy ceremonies?

    Am I reading you right here? You are in favour of the state paying for children to be indoctrinated with something you only pretend to believe in?

  • Somehow I ahve become anonymous!

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Dec '08 - 12:07am

    I didn’t say Cardinal Newman School was my favoured school, or a great school, it’s simply the one I went to, and that was 30 years ago, so I can’t really say what it is like now. Because I happened to be aware of it, and feel it’s reasonably typical in terms of intake, I googled it to find its website, and quoted that site. People have made claims about what they think Catholics schols are about – that they are about narrow “indoctrination” and enforcing division and teaching children to despise those of other religions. So I feel it’s a fair point to find a website of such a school and ask whether the information on that website supports the image of these schools which their opponents paint of them.

    As for whether I enjoy “fancy ceremonies”, no, I’m not talking in such shallow terms. I enjoy the sense of meditative calm I find in the Roman Catholic liturgy, yes. There is much else that satisfies me in it, but I am simply making the point that I tend towards allegorical interpetations rather than literalist.

    Regarding “paying for children to be indoctrinated”, why do you and others keep using that term, which you intend to be pejorative? I would like children to be brought up with a full understanding and appreciation of their parents’ culture, yes, but the word “indoctrination” suggests you suppose a rather more forceful and unpleasant approach than I observe actually takes place in Catholic schools.

    Am I a conservative for saying I value cultural diversity and children being brought up to appreciate the culture of their parents? Perhaps you would suggest the children of Jews, for example, are snatched from thier homes and forbidden from taking part on charming ceremonies such as Pesach because that too amounts to “indoctrination”. Perhaps children of immigrants should be banned from being taught their mother tongue, on the grounds it should be up to them to decide whether they want any part of that culture. Perhaps Welsh language schools should be banned on the grounds that imposing Welshness on a poor innocent child who may not want to grow up to be Welsh is an unacceptable imposition on that child’s freedom to grow up not part of some Celtic fringe culture and instead to be a standard English-speaking American-TV-watching kid just like all the others. How terrible to force a child to be different from the cultural norm given to us by Mr Murdoch and our other lords and masters.

    If you say, and it is the logical interpretation of your argument, that any way of bringing up children which places an emphasis on the parental culture is “indoctrination”, then it would seem to me to prevent this you must endorse the idea that all children should be snatched from their parents and brought up in state-endorsed homes where they can be guaranteed no unfair emphasis on any particular culture.

    But I have said all this before in this sort of debate, and I doubt you will agree with me now any more than you did in the past. So that is why I simply gave what I suppose to be a fairly typical Catholic school, and ask you to look at the religious education it gives, and point out where this might amount to the sort of “indoctrination” which you say it does.

  • Emotive drivel. No one has mentioned stopping any parent from indoctrinating his own children into his own belief system. What we are discussing is whether or not the state has any business doing it for him, especially when it almost certainly also means imposing it on other parents who don’t follow the same belief system.

  • Matthew Huntbach wrote:

    “Perhaps you would suggest the children of Jews, for example, are snatched from thier homes and forbidden from taking part on charming ceremonies such as Pesach because that too amounts to “indoctrination”.”

    Er… Does the state pay for this? If you read carefully, Matthew, you will see that what I am objecting to is the state funding and facilitating the indoctrination of children with religious beliefs. And I think you know this. The fact that you wilfully misrepresent my words rather suggests that you are aware of the weakness of your case.

    The difference between teaching about religion and indoctrination with religion is rather a clear one. If you tell children that Christians say that Jesus is the son of God, that is teaching about religion. If, on the other hand, you tell them that Jesus actually IS the son of God, then that is indoctrination with a religious belief. Now, I don’t think the state should stop parents and priests doing the latter. What I object to is the state doing it.

    The Welsh language is not a belief system, so one cannot be indoctrinated with it. The issue there is whether or not it is of benefit to the children to be taught in that language rather than English. Though Welsh language enthusiasts will no doubt argue that the future of the Welsh language matters more than the futures of the children.

    The reason why the state is so keen to promote “faith” schools is probably twofold:

    (1) In the 1920s, the Labour Party made a Mephistopholean pact with the RC Church. In return for the priests getting the vote out, Labour agreed to deliver state Catholic schools. This has led to a pork barrel culture of politicians falling over each other to sign up ethnic and religious minorities as client groups.

    (2) Organised religion is a marvellous instrument of social control. As the Roman Catholic education minister, John Patten, once put it, the one sure way to get the underlings to behave themselves is fear of hellfire.

    But the RC Church has a rather bizarre position on hellfire. If you go to confession, you get out of it. Indeed, it was this peculiar line of thinking that led Nicholas Van Hoogstraten to tell Martin Bashir: “Look, I’m planting these trees with my bare hands. Gawd will now forgive me for all the crap.” Protestants, at least, are more consistent. According to them, the only way we can avoid eternal hellfire is by total devotion to Jesus, and even then God has unfettered discretion to reject us at a whim.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Dec '08 - 1:54pm

    The Catholic school does not have any extra funding or facilities than any other LEA school, so where is the privilege? Indeed, surely by the very argument being used that the Catholic school is wasting time “indoctrinating” it should be a worse not a better school. If the LEA is giving it more money or better services than the secular school, then that is an issue you should take up with the LEA. If the Catholic school is “better” because it is Catholic, well, you don’t want to admit it, but maybe there is something in this Catholicism lark. You bien-pensants used to say the Catholic Church was bad because it kept its flock poor and ignorant, now you say it is bad because it keeps them prosperous and intelligent. You switch your tune whenever it suits you, which rather calls into doubt your claim (Laurence excluded – at least he is honest, he admits hates us) to be objective.

    As for getting the vote out for Labour, well I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon preached in a Catholic church on the theme “vote Labour”. Amongst left-wing Catholics there tends to be something of an anti-Labour feeling because of the Iraq war, roundly condemned by the Pope and almost every senior Catholic cleric everywhere. Right-wing Catholics tend to take a Daily Mail anti-Labour line, sometimes vociferously on the sexual themes.

    And as for social control, well, as I have said, I think Mr Murdich does a better job of that, and the Catholic Church with its constant theme of anti-materialism and opposition to the consumer culture is really rather subversive.

    I am not myself keen to promote faith schools. I support their existence where they exist and there is a genuine demand for them from people of the faith in question, and I feel very strongly that they MUST remain under the oversight of the LEA because of the dangers of religion which the secularists have put here. The deal that the schools get the funding in return for this oversight strikes me as a reasonable balance. For that reason I am utterly opposed to these “faith school” “academies” which New Labour is promoting – schools with a religious element not because of demand but because rich religious people are willing to pay for it, schools which are not under LEA oversight, and schools which are given financial privileges above those of the LEA.

    I would be happy for an avowedly secularist school to be set up if there were a demand for it, and of course I would accept its admissions criteria having at top “preference given to the children of those who have no religious practice”. I should want it to have LEA oversight to ensure that while secularist it was objective in what it taught on rekgion and did not encourage hatred of or discrimination against those who practice religion.

  • simon wilson 15th Dec '08 - 10:53am

    As Darrell rightly points out, the main argument put forward in the Runneymede report is this:
    “Faith schools should be for the benefit of all in society rather than just some. If faith schools are convinced of their relevance for society, then that should apply equally for all children. With state funding comes an obligation to be relevant and open to all citizens.”

    As this thread reflects, this whole issues raises complex and difficult questions for all Liberal/liberal people.

    Some faith schools are very good, inclusive institutions which play an important part in promoting community cohesion. In Oldham, there is a church of england primary school which is 99% Muslim. In Norfolk, there are church schools which are far more welcoming of children from traveller or migrant worker fmilies than other schools.

    There are other faith schools who do have admission policies that are dubious. Not every Faith School is the same-some are progressive others less so.

    For me, an important question emerges- If all faith schools are proved to be fully inclusive and follow the Accord principles which Laurence and others highlight which would include:

    Operating admissions policies that take no account of pupils’ – or their parents’ – religion or beliefs.

    Operating recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief.

    Following an objective, fair and balanced syllabus for education about religious and non-religious beliefs – whether determined by their local authority or by any future national syllabus or curriculum for RE.

    Being made accountable under a single inspection regime for RE, Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE) and Citizenship.

    Providing their pupils with inclusive, inspiring and stimulating assemblies in place of compulsory acts of worship.

    If these principles were put in place, would opponents of faith schools still want them closed down?

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