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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Government Refuses To Face the Problems That “Faith Schools” Have Created

The Government is tinkering round the edges of the faith school problem rather than confronting it in the radical way that is required, says the National Secular Society.

Responding to Education Minister Alan Johnson’s latest plans to try to break down barriers between religious communities in this country, Terry Sanderson, vice president of the National Secular Society, said: “These proposals don’t get anywhere near providing a solution to the problem of faith schools and their divisiveness – all they do is acknowledge that faith schools present a severe problem, but that the Government is afraid to tackle it in the radical fashion that is necessary.”

Mr Sanderson said that swapping teachers and trying to impose quotas merely indicated that the Government had recognised the problem, but were then trying to repair it with sticking plaster rather than getting to the fundamental cause of the tension that has arisen on this issue.

“The problems associated with single faith schools will become much more severe and controversial if the Government goes ahead with its plans to bring 120 Muslim schools from the independent sector into the state sector. These are very conservative schools, and they are not gong to be willing to water down their religious ethos. These schools over-emphasise religion, many deny some elements of science, require the wearing of hijabs and in some cases jilbabs, refuse to let girls take part in sports and so on. They will demand to be accommodated. The national curriculum will not change the schools; but the schools will change the way the national curriculum is implemented. Let’s be honest about this, these schools are, in the main, run by male theocrats more interested in promoting Islam than giving a balanced education. Similarly with Christian faith schools – the churches can protest as much as they like, but the primary purpose of a faith school is the promotion of religion – why on earth have specifically religious schools if that is not the case?”

Mr Sanderson said that instead of tinkering round the edges, the Government should have the courage to open a proper debate about faith schools, rather than specifically evade the debate as Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly has done. “It is clear that there is widespread unease about these schools, but the Government is taking no account of that because it is running scared of the reaction of ‘faith leaders’ and other vested interests.”


Published Wed, 18 Oct 2006