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13/02/12

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Don’t divide the children – the message from Synod about faith schools

“You can only love your neighbour if you know your neighbour in person”, Rabbi Dr Romain, told Synod at the start of a debate about the dangers of religiously separated education.

Church schools, said Rev Ruth Scott, should revive their “historic mission of providing education for all children”. Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the thinktank Ekklesia, said church schools should remember that a ‘Christian ethos’ is about educating all children especially the vulnerable and the excluded in society. Being a church school was not about discriminating in admissions.

Unfortunately many faith schools forget this. A religious free school is supposed to allocate 50% of its places using non-faith criteria if it is oversubscribed.  But a heavy emphasis on completing supplementary forms giving details about attendance which have to be ratified by a religious leader sends out a strong message – those who are not of the faith are second best and we’d rather not have you.  Faith free schools are not, of course, the only schools using such admission criteria – Voluntary Aided faith schools are their own admission authorities and do not even have to subscribe to the 50% rule.  Some even discriminate between looked-after children – these vulnerable children who are not of the faith are lower priority.

Any Christian school which has admission codes like this has forgotten the teachings of their leader.

 

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Comments, replies and queries

  1. “Jesus is coming – look busy” (Johnny English 2003 comedy film) springs to mind whenever I remember a mum who went to lengths to gain a place for her daughter at a faith primary. It appeared as though she had found God almost overnight, the school fell for it hook line and sinker.

    Only yesterday did I have a conversation with a church member about relying on faith rather than scientific evidence – I’m an agnostic but like to take on a broad range of concepts. They were comparing archaeological evidence of Christ with that of Plato to back up claims that we take philosophy on faith so why not Christ. Fair comparison? I don’t know, not qualified to say. However, they failed to acknowledge that much of our beliefs in children’s abilities are deeply rooted in epistemology, of innate intelligence. For a brief moment our conversation turned to education, to selection by faith – blind-faith, but it was over before it began.

  2. An early episode of the BBC comedy “Rev” dealt with the issue of parents trying their hardest to get the Rev Adam Smallbone to sign their forms confirming they are practising Christians. There are rumours buzzing that the church school is to receive a positive Ofsted so Adam has been inundated with requests from eager parents including the local MP. But Adam’s not daft and he decides to develop a Bible test to weed out the hypocrites.

    A 2 minute clip of the Bible test is here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p008hwrg

  3. An Ipsos-Mori poll asked Christians (ie people who defined themselves as Christian in the 2001 Census) about their beliefs, attitudes and practices. The question about faith schools revealed the following: “Less than half (45%) support state-funded faith schools for any religion, whether Christian or non-Christian, while just over half (53%) are in favour of state-funded schools for any Christian denomination.”

    The survey revealed that 17% of Christians strongly supported state-funded Christian schools, 36% tended to support them, 27% neither supported nor opposed, 9% tended to oppose, 6% strongly opposed and 5% either didn’t know or wouldn’t say. This shows that while 53% of Christians supported state-funded Christian schools, just over a quarter were indifferent, and 15% actually opposed state-funding for Christian schools.

    Perhaps those Christians who neither supported nor opposed, and those who actually opposed understand their religion better than those that uphold state support for Christian schools whose admission codes can discourage non-Christians.

    http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/2921/Religious-and-Social-Attitudes-of-UK-Christians-in-2011.aspx

    http://www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/ipsos-mori-religious-and-social-attitudes-topline-2012.pdf

  4. Paul Reeve says:

    An interesting poll but presumably the schools themselves should be encouraged to ….”revive their “historic mission of providing education for all children and should remember that a ‘Christian ethos’ is about educating all children especially the vulnerable and the excluded in society. Being a church school was not about discriminating in admissions.” Nothing to disagree with there.

    • Paul – you are correct. There is nothing to disagree with there. But when an Anglican Bishop suggested that CofE schools should open their doors to any child a “wave of anger” engulfed him. One CofE Vicar, supposedly a representative of the Christian faith, told the Mail he was “incandescent” at the suggestion.

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1379794/Anger-Bishop-calls-Church-England-limit-Anglican-pupils.html

    • To avoid more children becoming vulnerable the synod should join wider debate on the merits and morality of segregation by faith and academic ability. There’s no disputing the needs of the most vulnerable children, the Children Act 1989 covers this base, however, there used to be an acceptance around Every Child Matters that outcomes for all children were just as important as meeting immediate needs of the vulnerable. Although ECM covered education in one of its outcomes – enjoying and achieving – inclusion was discarded as an outcome because outcomes were assumed to be valid for all children. The merits of this omission may also be attributed to the complexities of the English education system, particularly around admissions, so no blame intended, but it could provide an indication that the complexities of service delivery have obscured who it matters to most. Perhaps ECM could frame future debates on education?

  5. Rosie Fergusson says:

    Inner city leeds VA schools operate an unusual “any faith but no faith” admissions policies which actively discriminates against vulnerable agnostic children that live yards from their gates in favour of advantaged tabernacle attending children from further away.
    In doing so they completely subvert their proclaimed ethos of the importance of the christian faith to families.
    This is in spite of the Leeds Diocese in 2013 that recommending world faith should not have priority as it is difficult to prove.
    The VA schools in the affluent suburbs don’t have the world faith criteria because this would prioritise inner city children before the local agnostics who fit the desired social demographic.

    On the bright side the disadvantaged unwanted bythe faith schools do generally attend wonderful schools where they are truly valued and included [ instead of the faith schools which discrimate against them]..

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