Saturday 12 January 2008

Keeping the faith

The irrational prejudice that some Labour MPs have against faith schools never ceases to amaze me. Some of them have gleefully latched onto a story in the Times that suggests a significant proportion of parents are baptising their children after the age of one, proof apparently of middle class mischief in the fight to grab good school places. Yet it is simply absurd to characterise faith schools as socially divisive. The working class, usually Labour-voting Irish population in Britain gained its foothold in this nation's business, political and entertainment life as a result of the education provided by Catholic schools; today's hard-working Polish migrants are doing the same. The schools not only provided them with a good education - and most faith schools provide a better education, even allowing for a small social bias in their admissions, than other schools - it also gave them the social encouragement they needed to become successful citizens. As Andrew Adonis, the schools minister, pointed out last year
In Ofsted reports of all primary schools between 2003 and 2005, 60% of Catholic primary schools were judged to have an excellent or very good ethos, compared to
45% of other schools, while 49% of Catholic secondary schools were judged to have an excellent or very good ethos, compared to 32% of other schools.

They were a great vehicle for social mobility and helped many young people to escape the relative poverty of their parents. It is for that reason that I support faith schools for other communities, such as Sikhs, Jews and Muslims, and provided the right safeguards are in place to guard against extremists and ensure a balanced curriculum, I favour their expansion where there is genuine parental demand. But it is not for government to create this demand - which is why Ed Balls was right to answer as he did at the Select Committee (whose chairman is not a fan of faith schools) - but is for government to respond to that demand where it can reasonably be met. A Labour government should be proud that it created the first state schools for faiths other than Christians and Jews. It should not be unwilling to continue to do so.

1 comment:

Ilja Nieuwland said...

We (Netherlands) have known a 20th century dominated by what is called a 'pillaring' of society into faith-based groups. The consequence has been social division (except at the top level) but also a politisation of education which has had quite unwelcome side-effects.

It is also very difficult to safeguard against sectarianism (and hence radicalisation and extremism) when that is what faith-based schools are about: segregating people on the basis of one common character.

I am not necessarily arguing against giving religion a place in education, mind you, but you might want to look at the role that faith-based schools have played in other countries - because once you let the cat out of the bag, it's bloody difficult getting him in again.