Humanists attempt to halt ‘back-door’ spread of state-funded religious schools

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A potentially landmark high court case begins today, which could halt what campaigners call the “back-door” spread of new state religious schools through England, approved by councils without residents being given a choice of alternative.


The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has launched the action with a local campaign group, is applying for judicial review of the decision by a London council, Richmond, to hand £10m of land and assets to the Catholic church to set up two new voluntary-aided religious schools, one primary and one secondary.

The case will hinge on a relatively narrow piece of legislation, an amendment to the Education Act passed last year, which compels councils looking to set up a new school to also seek proposals for a free school, with the competing bids decided on by the Department for Education. But the BHA says it highlights a wider issue of councils too often waving through state-funded faith schools, with the last five years seeing two-thirds of them set up without any alternatives being offered.

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the BHA, which opposes all faith schools, said: “Although it’s a local case, it really is representative of a national pattern, which sees state-funded religious schools opening by the back door, without competition, without the possibility even for local people to make their voices heard.

“All legal cases are, to an extent, forced on technicalities but the principle in this is clear: any new schools should be subject to democratic control and public will. Handing over public money to religious organisations essentially behind closed doors is not a good way for authorities to behave,” he said.

The BHA is allied in the high court case, scheduled to run today and tomorrow, with a local group, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign. Massed against them are Richmond council – which notes that a web survey of more than 4,000 locals, albeit self-selected, found 67% approval for a Catholic secondary school – as well as the diocese of Westminster and Michael Gove, the education secretary, who has backed Richmond.

Written By: Peter Walker
continue to source article at guardian.co.uk

18 COMMENTS

  1. Local opposition is: firstly, to the (Tory) Council’s decision to give a particular, prime, site to the Catholics when many think [but the Council denies] that it is urgently needed for an inclusive school, open to all; and secondly to the Church’s determination to go for a ‘voluntary aided’ school, so that they can control 100 % of admissions – “children of the non-religious, Anglicans, other Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and others need not apply”. 

    It is not against Catholic schools per se. 10 – 14 % of primary pupils are Catholics (the figure is disputed) but There is no Catholic secondary school in the borough; achieving this one would be God’s answer to many years of prayer. Or so they say.

    I have created a page of links to 100+ articles on this issue going back to January 2011 at: http://twickenhamlibdems.co.uk… . Enjoy!

  2. The idea of religious education having any funding, assistance or approval from government sounds borderline criminal. Can we get some evidence to support this religious teaching you are proposing? We shouldn’t just teach any old make believe bullshit. Prove it then you can teach it, unless it’s limited to history and mythology.  

  3. I went to a RC school.It was strict with hardcore discipline.
    Although it was an official RC school it also had pupils from all faiths who were made welcome.
    Many faith schools are strict but they continue to churn out bright students who usually go on to one of the good universities. And many of these bright students are from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    But i do understand opponents to faith schools who claim that their above average results are because of social selection.My school had a huge waiting list and yet there were two coaches of pupils who came in from another county to attend.Yes,they do have their own social selection process.

    It does not surprise me that 67% of the locals voted for a RC secondary school.
    I do encourage inclusive schooling but i am not against all faith schools.They’re not all bad.

    Someone should inform Andrew Copson,(Chief Executive of the BHA),that sometimes, if you’re from an underprivileged background, the faith school route is often the only option to a successful academic life.Not every child has parents who can afford to send them to an exclusive fee-paying school.

  4. Someone should inform Andrew Copson,(Chief Executive of the BHA),that sometimes, if you’re from an underprivileged background, the faith school route is often the only option to a successful academic life.Not every child has parents who can afford to send them to an exclusive fee-paying school.

    This really can’t be a supporting point for faith-based schools.  It’s merely highlighting the fact that publicly-funded schools don’t have the funds to offer the same features.  Turning to a faith-based school is like people in poor countries turning to religion because there it is perceived that’s there’s no real viable alternative.  But there is.  Divert money from faith-based schools to public schools!

  5. “All legal cases are, to an extent, forced on technicalities but the principle in this is clear: any new schools should be subject to democratic control and public will. Handing over public money to religious organisations essentially behind closed doors is not a good way for authorities to behave.”
    I wonder if Emmanuel College, set up by Sir Peter Vardy and supported by Tony Blair, but paid mostly for by public funds was ‘subject to democratic control and public will’?  Somehow I don’t think so.  Richard Dawkins devotes a subchapter to the  College and the ‘quality’ of teaching taking place in it in his ‘God Delusion’ , and as I’m sure most of us remember, it makes for horrific reading…I agree that this ‘back-door’ spread of state-funded faith schools should be halted and resources diverted to the creation of schools promoting science and reason-based education.  I agree with Richard that in faith schools children’s minds are molested, and in the 21st century that is criminal.

  6.  
    Lancshoop
    Sure 67% demonstrates the ‘public will’ here. In a general election they’d call it a landslide

    No surprise there! -  67% like a better funded newly built school for their children as a government privileged pet project, rather than an LEA school which has had its rebuilding program (to replace patched-up clapped out facilities), cancelled, and its budget cut!

    Political manipulation and distraction at its devious self!

  7. Net - faith schools have the same amounts of money as non faith schools from the government – however much it gets  per pupil is the same whether it is a catholic or non catholic school.

    I have to reluctantly agree with My Shapely Assets, my parents are both atheists but sent me to a catholic school because it is both the best and the most inclusive school in the area and they thought education with some religion a better route to rational thinking than a poorer education.

    It regularly gets lots of children into Russell Group universities/medicine/veterinary medicine and law who probably wouldn’t otherwise go if they went to the local non catholic school where it is less ‘cool’ to work hard and do well. Which gets as much money as us anyway.

    The pupils aren’t markedly different at my school and the school is not very forcefully religious or strict and hasn’t made me religious. In fact it has had the opposite effect on lots of its pupils. But it does have an respect others ethos and high expectations that pupils should work and do well. It has a very high value added score in the league tables and it cares about every pupil. The headteacher knows all our names which is not that common.

    My parents aren’t rich enough for private schools and could not afford to move closer to good non catholic schools as the houses are far more expensive. It was their best choice for us.

    That isn’t a good rational reason for keeping catholic schools, but it is a good reason for people wanting to get into them. It’s the education system that is divisive in a way, and ‘good’ catholic schools do provide a route for less well off parents who can’t afford to move or go private.

    Perhaps the BHA need to take that on board and aim to improve all non faith schools instead. It would be a far more effective way to get rid of catholic ones.

  8. Net- 
    For me,there is an alternative for a better education for your child in England.
    I do not have any children,but if i did, and i had to choose between a secular state school or one of the high performing RC ones;i would choose the RC school.

    Mark123-
    I was also taught to respect others at RC school.

    Some of the RC high performance schools are into the disciplined approach.
    I did not mind that.Discipline gives me drive and energy.It pushes me forwards.
    But what i did mind was the Catholicism and as soon as i left school i became an ex-Catholic. 

     

  9. Mark123
    Net - faith schools have the same amounts of money as non faith schools from the government – however much it gets  per pupil is the same whether it is a catholic or non catholic school.

    You are confusing capitation allowances per pupil for paying running costs, with set-up costs and building grants.

    The “Free School” proposals, are about cherry-picking privileged government pet project schools, as a cover-up for the overall cuts in education budgets and building programmes.

    On the running costs front, those with nice new buildings and equipment have a smaller outlay on repairs and replacements.

  10. Alan4discussion Yes but I don’t attend a free school – the first one in the country was only opened recently by Toby Young so very few pupils or parents have had any contact with them. 

    The whole free school thing is a bit odd because the schools don’t have to function as schools nor employ teachers or abide by the national curriculum or anything else. The current government is doing lots of things that are wrecking education and taking money out of real state run schools to buy land, build, fully equip and fund free schools is one of them!

    In fact as a result of that policy it looks like some good non free schools will close as local education authorities run out of cash to keep them going. Others will fall down. Leaving parents with just free schools which can be run any old way by anyone.

    The above applies to all free schools though not just new catholic ones. 

    I however was responding to the my shapely assets comments and to the BHAs longstanding objections to faith schools just because they are faith schools regardless of whether they are the old normal type state schools that have to teach properly by law, or the newer free schools which don’t. Also regardless of whether they are good schools or not.

    There seem to be lots of misconceptions about catholic schools here which are unfair. It is not simply catholic schools bad, mad and extremely religious and non catholic ones good atheist places. My school is excellent in very many ways, pastoral care, academically, brilliant science results and in terms of opportunities like sport, music, drama, trips.  The religion is there but it is moderate and not enforced on anyone and coupling it with a good education means it is easier to ignore or see through it anyway. My parents balanced it  against all the positives and the things that happened in other schools and deemed it worth the risk.

    A lot of us are not religious and most of those that are are not nastily religious or extreme in any way. That includes the RE teachers who would be the most religious members of staff in the school and the only overtly religious ones.

    I would have far more respect for the BHA campaign if it was against all free schools or poor schools in general and not just against any school linked to a religion regardless of what it is really like. Free schools and academies and education spending cuts are the real policies that will wreck education.

    My shapely asset is right in one respect. Current catholic schools do provide somewhere for people who cannot afford to move closer to good non catholic schools to get a better education than they might otherwise get. The two highest performing schools in my county are catholic ones. In the neighbouring county, which has grammar schoools, the grammar schools are at the top but the next highest performing comprehensives ones are catholic.

    The BHA need to take that on board. Otherwise they will simply be seen as taking away choice and the chance for less affluent children to get a good education. Particularly given that some of the more high profile members are wealthy enough for that not to be a worry for them.

  11. I thought that all schools in the UK were religious schools. Isn’t a religious assembly compulsory every morning, and isn’t religious education the only compulsory subject to be taught – in all schools? Maybe I am out of date, if for example it is possible for “Free” schools to teach what they want and skip the religious service. That would be a big step forward.

    I found those religious parts of my state education (50 years ago) odious, but by about age 12 was able to realise that it was all bunkum, and should be ignored, except for historical interest. The religious lessons mostly degenerated to mindless box ticking and just wasted time.

    It is a terrible reflection of UK education if it is true, as suggested here, that explicit  faith schools deliver better education than the rest. It sounds like a self reinforcing argument though; perceived as better, the more pushy parents (who probably would have high performing offspring anyway, on average) make sure their children get the best perceived opportunity, resulting in better school performance (if judged purely on outcome).

    Sometimes the only way to break out of such a damaging cycle is by primary legislation, much the way that European human rights law forces people, for example, to accept minority groups, first reluctantly, but ultimately whole-heartedly, once people understand the errors of their former ways. 

  12. All schools aren’t religious as far as I’m aware? Only a third of  schools are I think but could be wrong, but they all have to teach the same thing anyway. RE is compulsory in all schools but even in religious schools it looks at all religions and discusses them and at gcse and A level includes things like philosophy and ethics and other things not specifically related to religions. Assembly is only sometimes religious?. Usually it is about a topic like being as focused as an olympic athlete when working for gcses or about some country or other.

    RE most definitely isn’t the only compulsory subject English, Maths and Science have to be taught all the way through and history, geography, languages, DT, art, music, PE and a host of other things have to be taught to 14 in line with what is laid down in the national curriculum. In short most of the subjects on the school curriculum are compulsory.

    A lot of the new free schools are religious and seem to be being run by more seriously religious people. They won’t be getting rid of religion and they won’t have to teach to the national curriculum. So as far as I can see they are a far bigger threat than the existing schools which are all compelled to teach the same things anyway whatever religion they happen to be.

    Given the fact they will be free from any education legislation I’d have said they will be far more of a problem.

  13. Mark123
    In fact as a result of that policy it looks like some good non free schools will close as local education authorities run out of cash to keep them going. Others will fall down. Leaving parents with just free schools which can be run any old way by anyone.

    The above applies to all free schools though not just new catholic ones.

     

    Yes, I know!  Our village primary school, which had a top OFSTED rating, and of which I was chair of governors for several years, is now closed, with its children transferred to lower-graded LEA schools, or the local equal-level but full CofE, or the lower-graded RC, ones. 

    The local (heavily oversubscribed) secondary school (now named college) which my children attended, and of which I was also a governor, also had, and still has a top OFSTED rating. 
    It has had its replacement program for old worn-out buildings cancelled, while money is made available for the government’s “Free-Schools” pet projects!

    Tory governments have a long history of making claims to be “improving standards” – using their well tried gimmicks of cutting budgets and focussing the press on a few selected pet projects, – which serve as a better distraction, if they are badly thought through and controversial but provide loop-holes for their privileged supporters to exploit.

  14.  
    Mark123
    All schools aren’t religious as far as I’m aware? Only a third of  schools are I think but could be wrong, but they all have to teach the same thing anyway. RE is compulsory in all schools but even in religious schools it looks at all religions and discusses them and at gcse

    The difference is thatUK  LEA schools teach non-denominational Xtianity with coverage of other religions.

    Faith schools teach and conduct assemblies in their own religious denomination, (eg. RC, CofE, Islam, Judaism etc.)

    “Free Schools” and “academies” are yet another system to create loopholes for Tory (or other political)  groups and religinut groups to intrude into state education, while remaining funded by public taxation.

  15. We did indeed have catholicism as our branch of christianity in gcse RE – but then it is a branch of christianity so I’m not sure how much difference it made as we did also learn about other non christian religions as well. Perhaps it would have been interesting to learn about a more generic form of christianity as we did with Islam for example. I’m now doing RS to A level and it is more generic there.

    There wasn’t any attempt to say catholics were right though, it was more this is what catholics believe now discuss and more often than not the discussions did not agree with the catholic line. The assemblies were very rarely religious, mainly only on special holy days. That however is the price you pay for choosing a catholic school and  it doesn’t seem to have been a particularly high one given the grades we get and the standard of education and discussion even in RE. 

    We too are losing money. Gove is obsessed with grammar schools and the two in the neighbouring county are getting money thrown at them where we have lost funds for vocational courses for the less able students. Gove does not care about the less academic!

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