Some concerns remain over the expansion of Faith Schools
Faith schools are now an important part of the education landscape and their numbers have increased in recent years.
Recent events in the Muslim Al-Madinah Free school in Derby, judged dysfunctional by Ofsted, has raised awareness of the number of faith schools that are publicly funded (around a third of all schools are faith schools) and opened up the debate, again, over whether ‘faith’ schools should, in a secular society, be publicly funded. And, if so, whether the current regulation of these schools and of their admissions policies is sufficiently robust.
Faith schools tend to perform above average. But concerns have been raised over their admissions policies. The highly successful London Oratory (Catholic) school was recently criticised for its admissions policy. Indeed ,there is some research evidence that Faith schools tend to have less FSM pupils on their books, than the local authority average, which implies some form of selection is taking place.
Lord Baker, the Conservative former Secretary of State for Education and Science who first introduced the National Curriculum, has expressed his disappointment at the increase in the number and diversity of religious schools since 1997.
In a recent interview in The House Magazine, Lord Baker commented that ‘I think the Labour Party in 1997 was very wrong to open up the possibility of having more religious schools. When I was Education Secretary I did not approve any independent religious schools. I went to a Church of England primary school myself and I liked it, it was a very good school. But Church of England primary schools are community schools, rather than church schools, and I believe very strongly that children of all faiths – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist – and atheists should all study together, play together, eat together, go on the bus together. So I’m not in favour of any more faith schools.’
New research from the British Humanist Association (which obviously has a particular agenda to advance) claims to have found ‘ that religious schools, particularly minority religious schools, are the most ethnically segregated.’ The researchers claim that the majority of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu state-funded schools have no ‘white British’ pupils at all, while the rest have only one or two at most. At the same time, most Jewish state schools have no ‘Asian’ pupils at all. By comparison, the average Muslim, Hindu and Sikh school is situated in an area where a third of the local population is ‘white British’, whereas Jewish schools are in areas where 12 percent is ‘Asian’. The BHA has challenged the Government’s decision to fund such segregated schools, with all of the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh schools and many of the Jewish schools having opened in the last few years.
These findings, according to the BHA, are based on the most recent available data, namely January 2013 figures for school populations and the 2011 Census for local area populations. Specific findings include:
Out of the five Sikh state schools for which data is available, four have no pupils at all that are classified as ‘white British’, compared to 30 percent of their local populations.
Out of four Hindu state schools, two have no pupils classified as ‘white British’, compared to 45 percent of their local populations.
Out of 15 Muslim state schools, eight have no pupils classified as ‘white British’. On average, over a third of the local populations are ‘white British’. Overall, Muslim schools have on average 34 percentage points fewer ‘white British’ pupils than would be expected for ethnically diverse schools in the areas in which they are located.
Out of 44 Jewish state schools, 29 have no pupils who are classified as having an ‘Asian’, compared to 12 percent of their local populations – with one school having a majority ‘Asian’ population in its immediate vicinity. Jewish schools have on average 13 percentage points fewer ‘Asian’ pupils than would be expected for ethnically inclusive schools located in their areas.
Out of 1,985 Roman Catholic schools, 245 have no ‘Asian’ pupils. Catholic schools typically have 4.4 percentage points fewer ‘Asian’ pupils than would be expected for schools located in their areas.
Out of 13,121 schools with no religious character, just 18 have no ‘white British’ pupils. 2,344 have no ‘Asian’ pupils, but less than 1 percent of these schools’ local populations are ‘Asian’. Schools with no religious character have on average 0.8 percentage points more ‘Asian’ pupils than would be expected for schools located in their areas.’
A report by the Religious Education Council for England and Wales (published this week) says that it is time to reconsider the special status given to religious education (RE) in schools for the past 70 years. It calls for debate on alternatives. The report complains that RE has become effectively marginalised in many schools and will call for a better system. It wants an open discussion on how best to provide good quality RE locally and nationally in the 21st century. One option would be to add the subject to the national curriculum, making it a legal requirement to teach the same approved syllabus. This would provoke protests from faith schools, which are allowed to teach a denominational syllabus agreed by their diocese. It wants ‘strong, core knowledge of religions and worldviews through varied experiences, approaches and disciplines including investigative teaching and enquiry’.