Have been wanting to blog on this for over a week now, but, not for the first time, am not sure how to formulate my thoughts on such an emotive subject.
And before I start I suppose I ought to declare my Christian faith as an interest, although (like other similar issues) I feel that this directly leads me into Render Unto Ceasar territory if I am not careful.
First of all, my attention was drawn by last Friday's Guardian, about parents who pretend to be Christian in order to get their children into faith schools, so as to improve their education prospects.
I have no doubt that this is widespread, and indeed that some schools operate on such a policy, but not all schools are like that.
Shortly after my family moved into Hertfordshire some twenty plus years ago, I went to a C of E Junior school. We had prayers during assembly, occasionally we would have to listen to this BBC Radio religious programme for children which was explicitly Christian. But that and morning hymns, there wasn't much religious emphasis and , many pupils who attended did not, as far as I know and I have to be careful here, come from Christian families as such and there was, as far as I know, no policy on a requirment of faith to attend. My Mum and Dad were never asked about their faith or anything like that when they applied for me to attend. In fact we never even worshipped at the local C of E Church.
The secondary school I went to, likewise, has links with the same church. Again, morning assembly, prayers, hymns. R.E. didn't have an emphasis on Christianity and few picked it as a G.C.S.E. subject (not if you wanted to invite any ridicule from other pupils). One or two of the teachers were openly athiest and many of us came from a variety of backgrounds. I myself was not a Christian then and during a teachers' organised debate on religion when I was in Year Ten, I openly mentioned my then convuluted theistic beliefs which seemed more akin to the Doctor Who anthromorphic concept of the Guardians than anything else.
So much for the influence of Science Fiction.
So I do think some aspects of the debate on faith schools are red herrings. I personally have no problem with them, althoughI appreciate some of my non-Christian friends do. Put simply, if you have a faith and you have a family, you will want your children to grow up with some knowledge of that faith. Likewise a secular humanist or an athiest is not going to necessarily want their child to grow up without holding to something the parents believe in. This is what helps make the debate emotive. Some also accuse faith schools of downgrading your average secondary modern by having high reputations and causing many teachers and parents to flock to them in a hypocritical mass, leaving the secondary modern to fall back into the educational abyss.
I disagree in that, if faith schools do well in academic standards, then that should be praised. Should they try and encourage mediocrity so as to improve other schools standing. Hypocricy is certainly not to be encouraged, but if faith schools started turning puils and teachers away then they would be slated for being elitist. "Render Unto Ceasar" again.
I think part of the answer is to encourage secondary schools to improve standards by drawing on their good points. Perhaps a twinning system with more succesful schools should be encouraged. But please don't blame faith schools for the malase, because the reaons why some schools, any school, fails is complex and varied.