Faith Schools and the Census

The last census radically over-estimated the number of religious people in England and Wales, leading to policies which favoured religious people and organisations.  Nowhere is this more pressing than in the area of education, where radical policy changes have been made allowing a massive expansion of state maintained faith schools.  This is something that we, at the BHA, are passionately opposed to; and it constitutes a central reason why we think it is vital that the Government is given a more accurate picture of religiosity this census.

Why, you might ask, should you be worried about the expansion of state supported faith schools?  First (and importantly for those of you who have tried to get your child into your local school): faith schools are allowed to discriminate in their admissions process, meaning that they can give preference to children from families who share the religion of the school.  Not only does this discriminate against children who don’t belong to the ‘right’ religion (as if children can actually ‘belong’ to a religion at such a young age!), it also is widely recognised as leading to segregation along religious and socio-economic lines.  Second, some faith schools are allowed to reject otherwise qualified applicants when hiring teaching staff because they are of the ‘wrong’ or no religion.  Third, standard faith schools have freedom with respect to the RE syllabus they teach.  They can, if they choose, only teach one religion, and teach it as fact.  Similarly, they have the freedom to teach vital subjects like sex and relationships education from a religious vantage point: if any more is taught than the basic biological processes of science classes, it may well be taught in ways that are homophobic or gender discriminatory.

Remember, these are practices being funded by the state.  It is tax-payers’ money, which is in scarce supply, that is supporting this discrimination and potential indoctrination, rather than being used to move towards a comprehensive and inclusive education for all children.

And things are only going to get worse.  In July last year, the Government rushed the Academies Act through Parliament (using processes normally reserved for legislation around terrorism), which allows all state schools to apply for ‘Academy’ status.  If they are successful in their application, the school need only stay within the wide remit of teaching a ‘broad, balanced’ curriculum: that is, it need not follow the national curriculum.  However, by ‘freeing’ religious Academies from the national curriculum without sufficient safeguards, children are at risk of being exposed to and taught extreme religious views presented as facts, including creationism.  Furthermore, Academies are able to allocate up to 100% of their admissions on the basis of faith alone.

Soon enough, Academies won’t be a minority: all schools can apply to be an Academy, and many already have.  Even more worrying is the fact that in the current Education Bill, it is proposed that any local authority wishing to open a new state maintained school should first seek proposals for the establishment of an Academy.  This means that all new schools will be automatically be proposed as an Academy:  a frightening prospect indeed.

The Census data from 2001 has been used repeatedly to justify these policies, despite the fact that surveys have repeatedly shown that the majority does not approve of faith schools. 

Make sure the Government can’t use the data like this again: if you are not religious, make sure you tick ‘No Religion’. 

If you want to do more to stop the expansion of faith schools, visit http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/what-you-can-do-to-help/edbillaction to take action on the current Education Bill.

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8 Responses to Faith Schools and the Census

  1. Tony says:

    It is not just schools which is the major concerns, if 80% of the population tick the Christian box then this gives greater political power to Christian lobby groups on issues such as abortion, Euthanasia, etc.

    The old line that “…the majority of people are Christians and the Christian view on this subject is…”

    Whilst it is wrong to say that all Christians agree on moral issues just as it is wrong to say that all athiests agree but it is commonly used. I most recently heard it used on a debate regarding same sex marrages, when in actual fact even most Christians in this country support sames sex marrages.

    With regards to the Faith schools being head and shoulders above the rest this is largely due to the additional funding these schools often had in the past, and once a school gets a reputation for being good it is easier to go on being good.

  2. andrea carlson says:

    I went to a faith based academy and whilst I achieved good academic results I feel that the appaling sex education, incredibly sexist attitudes and obvious favouritism for overtly christian kids did not benefit me in any way. The no bullying policy, for example, was not nearly as strict when the child reported was in christian union. Those of you who are catholic and posted about will be horrified to learn many children were taught catholicism does not count as christianity. Children leave these places disillusioned, distrusting all religion. I was going to put a flippant answer on the census but now i’m definitely going to put atheist.

  3. James Walton says:

    Laugh out loud, or cry inside – I’m not sure. I beg you, go and spend some time in a faith school. Their governors, staff, parents and pupils are not the brainwashed silly-heads I think you are in danger of presenting them as. They are human beings who, like every other human being, have an idea about how the world is and how to get on with day-to-day reality in that world.

    We, whoever we are, label this representation of the world – for a thousand different reasons – with a name, be it “Atheist”, “Buddhist”, “Christian”, “Dualistic”, “Eccentric”, “French”, “Gay”, “Hellenic-polytheistic-reconstructionist”, “Zoroastrian” etc, etc, etc. But then it is so much more complicated than this – we all have a very personal paradigm comprising loads of these labels and so on. We probably like to commune with similar people (we endlessly share our ‘likes’ on facebook etc) and engage with stories that back up our beliefs or perhaps we get inspired to change our beliefs by another story, another experience. In this sense we are all inescapably “religious”, because the stories we adhere to move us to act in certain ways; we are changed by the fictions we encounter and perhaps those fictions become manifest as truth in our experience because it makes the most sense to us at that time, and because we, in turn, make them a reality.

    There’s a great story about Jesus which I can’t help but be changed by, every time I think about it. He said, “If you love those who love you, what good is that? Anyone can do that. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? That’s easy. But I say this: love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” I’m sorry, but I just can’t help saying, YES, this is wisdom, this is a truth I can hold on to – I’ll fail a thousand times, but I want to make this a reality in my life too . Another great story that I like to adhere to is this: 5 A DAY. It’s a great idea; it’ll hopefully improve my physical and mental well-being – hurrah!

    My point is, whoever we are, that when we have children (I have three, they’re amazing), we want to feed them with the best food that we can afford, and shelter them with the cosiest home we can make, and wrap them in comfortable clothes and do our best to make them brush their teeth. We also, whatever our beliefs, have an instinct to share our world with them. In reality, as we all know, our children will see and hear and taste and smell and touch the world in a different way to us, but we can’t help presenting them with our understanding of the world. There’s no way I could substantially prove to my two-year-old that eating five fruit and vegetables a day will be more beneficial than five bags of chocolate buttons, and frankly, I’m not even sure I could prove it to myself without placing my trust in the wisdom of somebody with a greater expertise in that particular area of biology. Similarly, there’s no way I could prove to my two-year old that it is beneficial to get into the habit of saying grace before meals, but I “know” that it is – not because some voices in my head told me so or because I was blackmailed into it by some paedo-priest – but because: it is the tradition of my family, it gives a rhythm to the day, it encourages you to pause before engaging with this incredible thing called eating, it makes you stop to think about the work that has gone into to the preparation of this food (if you’re having a nice BLT, it gives you something of an opportunity to make peace with the pig who has been sacrificed for the sake of your taste buds), the list goes on and on… but it is not a ‘rational’ set of reasons no less than my ‘rational’ set of reasons for wanting to teach my two-year old to play the piano, but it is what I deem best for my child.

    So, if it’s ok with you, I will try to get my children into a school that seems to share a similar picture of the world to the one that is in my noggin. In my case, it’d ideally be a Catholic school with a good music co-ordinator, a healthy-food policy and a bike-rack. And I would hope that my fellow Britons would be happy for me to want this. Equally well, I would expect other responsible parents, whether they are poor, wealthy, healthy, unhealthy, Sunni, Methodist, Welsh-speaking, sport-fanatics, X-factor fans, Radio 4 listeners, Orthodox Jewish, anarchist or neo-Pagan, to do exactly the same as me: to bring up their children in the best way they can, educating them as they see fit. I have no problem with this – why should I?

    Sorry that was long, but, I can’t read this anti-faith school stuff without saying something. Peace.

  4. Simian says:

    Reinforcing Tim’s point, my daughters all went to a non-faith school, but one which had similar entry requirements to many Christian ‘faith schools’. Guess what – the results were always way above average state school results. Not a hard one to fathom.

  5. Please expand on what part you believe the 2001 census has had on the 2010 government decision to expand the academy program and to allow all faith schools to apply.

    The “census has been used to justify” line is a rather thin argument. The truth is that the census had absolutely no part in this policy.

  6. Voting Catholic would also be a really good idea.

    Speaking as a convert, I know that the bulk of my Italian Catholic friends in the school playground are either anarchists or atheists. They simply want their kids to get the best schooling possible, and Catholic schools deliver great results. They have a purely traditional view that their kids should know about how to pray a novena to get along with folks back in Italy.

    Our children are multilingual. Over half the children in our school do not have English as a first language. Yet our school consistently outperforms white-bread English state schools with no faith backing. Many of the dads have been fired over the years – I see them in the playground. It is rough being a Filipino or Irish when times get tough. But our community hangs together.

    We are the inclusive, loving society. Get over your ideas, hard-coded from the times when the British state needed to hate the Jesuits as the 5th collumn of a demonic pope. Expect, not a Spanish inquisition, but a gentle questioning from a minority faith that knows how to ask and answer questions.

    • Tim McGregor says:

      Actaully, it turns out that faith schools achieve better results by selecting for better pupils, not by providing better education: http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/740

      • Michael says:

        Really Tim? Eton or Godolphin perhaps (fee-paying private schools) , but not your local C of E primary school which does accept children attending the parish church before others, but also accepts a majority of pupils from the local community whatever faith or lack thereof. The Church of England was the first institution to provide education on a wide scale and continues to do so as part of its Christian mission to share God’s love will all regardless of their faith. I have worked in several primary schools, both state and faith-based. Church of England schools are head and shoulders above the equilvalent state school largely because of their caring ethos and values that often can make all the difference in a poor, inner city context.