Saturday, July 22, 2006

Faith Schools

(BBC Online)
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.

33 comments:

A soft socialist said...

I went to a faith school at a young age nd wouldn't have had it any other way. They taught me many of the values that I hold now.

Andrea said...

stupid question, but are faith schools state schools or public/private schools?

Paul Burgin said...

I don't fully know the answer to that, but my understanding is that they can be both

Andrea said...

uhm, in that case, I wouldn't have problems with public/private faith schools, but I think I wouldn't support state faith school.

You raise the following point:
"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"

but shouldn't it be a task of the Church? So the local Church organizing (as I suppose they already do) courses about religion and all the meetings before the various rites (confirmation, confessions,..)

Skuds said...

Back in the 1960's I think it was assumed that Christianity was the default belief - and C of E unless specified otherwise.

My mainstream, normal, local 60's primary school had a morning assembly where hymns were sung.

My 70's comprehensive school had a morning assembly where hymns were sung most days, and a sunday service - always Christian but often with visiting speakers from different churches. I think you could get out of it if you had another religion, but not if you had none. Most kids put up with it except one Jewish boy who used to stay out and make faces through the windows at us.

Your faith school does not sound very different from what all schools were like 30 years ago.

I still can't work out why Mum had me go to Sunday School, given that there was so much of it in the normal school and she is not religious at all. Just to get rid of me for an hour or two I suppose.

Personally, I think religion should be kept out of schools, especially if my taxes are paying for it. Sunday schools still exist for parents to get their own children instructed/indoctrinated (delete as appropriate) in their own faith.

the dĂșnadan said...

I think you are right about faith schools being public and private, Paul. My primary C of E school was a state school but the Catholic college, Stoneyhurst is private. I also recognise one or two of your experiences in respect of your primary school - esp the BBC programme!

For my part, I think secularism should be kept out of schools. If religion has sunday school for instruction/indocrination, then secularism has every other day of the week to impose/commend itself. If that is not possible, then I would accept a joint faith/secular school system.

Paul Burgin said...

Well as you said Dunadan it works both ways. I get your point Skuds, but likewise I am not sure I like the thought of my taxes funding some forms of schooling, but C'est la vie!
There is calling for faith schools to be generally private, but that can put immense pressure on families in some poor areas and limits their choices, should they want their child to go to a faith school!

Lola said...

This subject has the potential to make me very very cross!

Parents have the right to bring their kids up in their faith if they wish, and yes that involves the right to educate them in a faith setting.

Parents of no faith should also have the right to educate their kids in a secular setting - the fact than even non-religious state schools have to have collective Christian worship is silly.

Yes, there should be more safeguards to ensure that a faith requirememt isn't maniplated to mean academic selection.

If faith schools had to be private, why should only rich parents have the right to live out their religion through their way they bring up their family.

Faith schools absolutely should teach tolerance and respect for all faiths and none. My primary education was amazing, however it did not do this - we did Catholicism and nothing else. That is no longer the case. My wee cousins have just left the same primary school and the national curriculum now has strict requirements in terms of interfaith dialogue and introducting kids to other religions. That is absolutely right.

If all faith schools were forced into the private sector, then that would no longer be the case and we'd return to faith education being very insular. Pragmatically, as a leftie, I think it's important that there should be national standards and safeguards in place to ensure that religious schools are teaching kids effectively and also teaching tolerance and understanding. They have to be in the state sector for that to happen.

Anyway, Catholic schools are fantastic! If you could bottle the community spirit and flog it it would be worth a fortune.

Secularists - allow us the right to bring our kids up in our faith if we want, so that when they reach adulthood they can make real decision about whether to maintain that or not. We will respect your right to bring your kids up with no faith. Seems a fair deal to me.

Paul Burgin said...

Thanks Lola, you put that better than I did!

Lola said...

I have had this row many, many times. However, it's impossible to win or to lose it, really, as opinion on it simply comes down to how much weight you out behind a parent's right to bring their kids up and educate them in a faith setting

Paul Burgin said...

Well that's what I mean about it being emotive, and there is the feeling that, if you are pro faith schools, you are, for want of a better phrase, damned if you do and damned if you don't!

politicschimpette said...

I went to one of the few joint Catholic/CofE Secondary schools and I agree with Adele Reynolds...it taught me the values that I hold dear today. It wasn't all "bible-bashing" as some of the papers make out, but I was given a good education in other religions; something Daily Mail hacks might want to try!

Andrea said...

"Secularists - allow us the right to bring our kids up in our faith if we want,"

but no-one would stop people to bring up their kids in a religious way and teach them their faith. But isn't it a Church task and not a state task?

Paul Burgin said...

I can see both points, but Andrea, Christianity is officially a state religion (incidentally,something I don't agree with!) so state Christian schools are not a problem
For me, if it is that religious schools have to be private, then some provision must be made for those from poor areas, because not all faith schools will be easily accesible in more ways than one for parents who want to send their children there.

Lola said...

I don't think it's about this being a Christian country - I am equally comfortable with Jewish / Muslim schools being funded by the State.

I just don't see a problem with a school teaching kids within a faith setting, so long as it's absolutely alongside interfaith work and teaching tolerance and respect.

In some ways it's more important for non-established faiths - certainly one of the draws from the Catholic perspective is about education being part of the Catholic community.

Ultaimately, what's wrong with faith schools being funded by the state, so long as no-one's forced to send their kids to them? It's just a question of parental choice - the state shouldn't assume all kids are Christian, but neither should they assume all kids are atheists.

Paul Burgin said...

Thats certainly true!

Andrea said...

"can see both points, but Andrea, Christianity is officially a state religion"

uhm, I forgot about it! I should re-think about it now

Jonathan said...

Faith schools are generally oversubscribed - parents of all beliefs want to send their children to them because they agree with their ethos and values.

The trouble is, that as much as some secularists would like to, you can't separate the values from the faith that motivates them. A strong ethos and values don't just emerge out of nowhere, but from a community's longstanding rooted convictions and vision. It's easy to have 'values' on paper, but implementing and sustaining them is nigh on impossible without ongoing input and refreshing of ideas and perspective that a faith community such as a church can provide.

That is not to say that all faith schools are good schools. It's possible to have inward looking, defensive, excessively dogmatic schools that exist to cocoon pupils and shut out parents if they don't have the 'right' beliefs.

I would love to see more Christian communities and organisations work out their faith by setting up schools with faith explicitly and openly at the core of the school, but outward looking and engaging with society (and teaching in line with the national curriculum). If parents of any faith or none are attracted by Christian values of character development, developing individuals gifts, reconcilation, forgiveness, mentoring and strong relationships are practically demonstrated and attractive, they will send their children there. If not the schools won't succeed and they will wither away.

We need to move beyond faith schools 'good' or faith schools 'bad' and focus our energy on exposing inward looking, defensive faith schools whilst encouraging faith communities who are confident enough in their faith and resulting values to set up schools that are open to all parents and their children.

Lola said...

i very much agree.

but i would like to emphasise that the nat curriculum is REALLY important in this debate, as i am deeply uncomfortable with some of the things coming out of the US with regard to teaching creationism as science etc etc, and I would certainly not want that to be replicated here

Paul Burgin said...

Well that would need some careful thought and is an issue by itself

Lola said...

oh dear can of wrms alert

Paul Burgin said...

:)

Andrew said...

"The trouble is, that as much as some secularists would like to, you can't separate the values from the faith that motivates them. A strong ethos and values don't just emerge out of nowhere, but from a community's longstanding rooted convictions and vision. It's easy to have 'values' on paper, but implementing and sustaining them is nigh on impossible without ongoing input and refreshing of ideas and perspective that a faith community such as a church can provide."

Obviously I disagree with the above, but that aside, I'm intrigued. Please don't take this as an attack - I'm just interested.

The Bible clearly contradicts itself in terms of (not) killing / (not) torturing heretics. You're all decent people so clearly ignore the parts which compel you to violence, but isn't that making a value judgement independent of your faith? After all, you can't arbitrarily accept the good parts but ignore the bad...

I'm not going to come back at you with quotes, I'm just interested in how you resolve this - do you consider the Bible to be logically consistent?

Lola said...

I get confused at this point. Hence the benefit of having a Church to help interpret the Bible.

Killing = wrong.

How one justifies that against the bits to which you refer (I have no idea what bits you mean, btw) is beyond me. I imagine the 10 commadments and loving one's neighbour take precedent over torturing heretics, however.

New Testament doesn't really go in for torture, mind.

nobbly said...

lola said
I just don't see a problem with a school teaching kids within a faith setting, so long as it's absolutely alongside interfaith work and teaching tolerance and respect.

The Christian faith teaches tolerance and respect but I do wonder about inter faith work. If Christianity is right then all other faiths are wrong. Teach an awareness of of other faiths but without infering that they are worthwhile or equal value.

Paul Burgin said...

Andrew.
The great thing about The Bible is that it is a book that goes over a long period of history. It's not just about what happened, it covers things like poetry, songs, laws, history, letters, prophecy etc.. It's comples, detailed and everything has to be taken within context which makes it hard enough for anyone to understand.
The New Testament deals with the coming of the Messiah and his sacrifice for our sins, showing that living by the law in the Old Testament was impossible, but that it is better to live by faith in Christ.
So that makes the law unworkable as such, but it does allow one to live by the spirit of the law. Now many of the laws were set up for a community struggling to survive in a desert land, surrounded by warring nations, many of which believed in various things like child sacrifice. So the laws were pertinent then, but the spirit of the law (The motives behind them, for example with the Ten Commandments, they are alll based around loving God and loving your neighbour, so you won't want to commit adultery, commit murder, or steal your neighbour's ox) is eternal.
As for making value judgements independent of faith! I don't agree, I mean where does a lot of the good value judgements of today's society come from. Don't forget that a lot of the influence of Christianity in Europe and beyond was a force for good, in spite of the horrors committed by those who claimed to speak in it's name!

Lola. In all honesty, the New Testament can be harsh, but no, they don't go for torturing heritics!:)
Nobbly. The thing is, in spite of the UK having Christianity as a state religion (i.e. in this context, the Church of England), it is in practise and belief, pretty much a secular country, and so, whilst I agree with the absolute truth of Christianity, one has to abide by and respect the society we live in. In other words we cannot enforce the Gospel on others, which makes for a bit of tightrope walking, but there you go!

Lola said...

Not necessarily nobbly. My understanding is thet the Church no longer rules that only Catholics are saved, as we cannot begin to limit the extent of God...

I think teach 'this is what we believe' and 'this is what they believe' - there's ways of making it clear that Christians do/don't believe something without implying that the other faith (or, indeed, no faith) is inferior

nobbly said...

As a Protestant I'm not bothered by the musings emanating from Rome. Nor indeed from Canterbury, York, Southwark or wherever when they are plainly ridiculous.
I imagine that God rewards good people whatever their beliefs but only through Jesus Christ are we saved. The work of Christianity should be to spread that message. That must mean that non Christians must be taught the Christian message without fear of upsetting them. If they choose not to accept the message then that is their right but it doesn't follow that a strong belief in something makes that equal to the Christian message.
I listened to a talk by a Cherokee Indian a couple of weeks ago. He is a Baptist, as, he said, are most Cherokees, through the work of a Welsh baptist in the 1800's. The man is a minister and came to England as a missionary nearly 20 years ago to spread the Christian message to a pagan people. He does it without fear of offending.
Christianity is either right or wrong. If right then all other beliefs are wrong.

Jonathan said...

"The Bible clearly contradicts itself in terms of (not) killing / (not) torturing heretics. You're all decent people so clearly ignore the parts which compel you to violence, but isn't that making a value judgement independent of your faith? After all, you can't arbitrarily accept the good parts but ignore the bad..."

Andrew,
Fair question and one that I wonder about a lot. I'd been meaning to blog on this for ages and have now finally posted on it , so I won't repeat myself... apart from to say: no, you can't arbitarily accept the 'good' parts but ignore the 'bad' - so how do you go about interpreting the Bible whilst still taking it seriously and not just taking what you like from it?

nobbly said...

"but isn't that making a value judgement independent of your faith? After all, you can't arbitrarily accept the good parts but ignore the bad..."

Isn't that what Christians have to do each day? We have to live in this world and try to make it better. That will not be done without just retribution being dealt to the wicked after both cheeks have been smitten.

Lola said...

nobbly - who are you or i to say that?!

i'm not saying don't evangelise, of course that's important, but believing in Jesus does not preclude engaging in other faiths without being snotty.

I do not, for example, believe that the Prophet Mohammed was sent by God and that Jesus was merely a Prophet, but when I teach my children about their faith I will tell them that we believe what we believe, they believe what they believe, and whist we believe that our faith represents the truth, they believe that too and we must repect their right to believe that and live out their religion.

Lola said...

that is meant to read engaging WITH, not IN, other faiths

nobbly said...

"who are you or i to say that?!"

We are people struggling to understand and follow the teachings of the Christ. Who else do we need to be?

"but believing in Jesus does not preclude engaging with other faiths without being snotty."

By snotty lola do you mean talking down our noses at them? If so, I agree with you but I do believe that we should promote Christianity vigorously in the certain knowledge that other beliefs are mistaken.
We haven't promoted Christianity vigorously enough in this country for many years and the current mish mash of uncertainties is evidence of that.