Minority faith schools will be a disaster for cohesion


The National Secular Society will deliver a speech at an education seminar in the European Parliament in Brussels today to underline the danger for cohesion of minority faith schools.

Keith Porteous Wood will be speaking at a EU Working Party seminar on Religion and Education. He will tell the audience that “minority religious schools will not only be mono-religious, they will be almost exclusively minority-cultural and with pupils drawn largely from minority ethnic groups. ... Cohesion will be further damaged with the opening of minority religious schools because minority faith pupils will be withdrawn from community schools thus reducing their diversity too.”

He will also cite the Hindu school opened recently in Harrow causing dissent in the majority Hindu community because of excessively-strict entry criteria. Even the Hindu Council UK objected: “we believe it is unfair to rule out other Hindus by imposing on them the strict rules of one particular, minority Hindu group in order for their children to attend”.

The Society does understand the frustration in minority religious communities of pointing to the many publicly-funded Christian schools and seeing more being opened. But Mr Porteous Wood said that that is another reason why such openings should be opposed and steps taken to convert publicly-funded religious schools to community schools.

He continued: “I believe that building community cohesion is one of the biggest challenges facing an expanding EU. Academic research confirms what seems to be common sense, that educating children of all ethnicities and religion and beliefs together builds cohesion. And the younger pupils are when the communal education is started, the more successful cohesion is. If it starts at Primary level, the parents are drawn together too.

“The UK Government is in denial over minority religious schools and this makes the outlook for community cohesion bleak indeed. Both Educational and Communities ministries toe the line by claiming with a straight face that religious schools aid cohesion, and then do everything they can to close down discussion on the topic. Yet they implicitly acknowledge the problem by suggesting artificial interaction between minority ethnic and other schools. These include reciprocal visits, correspondence clubs or joint sports events. The academics worry that such “sticking plaster” remedies are not just ineffective; they may actually make matters worse.

“I wish the problem were just one of our failing to communicate evidence supporting our counter-arguments. But the more evidence we provide the clearer it becomes that the Government does not wish to even listen. So this raises a question of even greater concern: why is the British Government so intransigent over minority faith schools? Part of the answer, and it has some credibility, is that the UK Government will look kindly on anything with a religious tag, almost regardless. But there must be more to it. Delving deeper leads one to consider the Government’s well-publicised failure to tackle extremism, especially in mosques, something that also infuriates the many Muslims who abhor extremism.

“We must all do everything we can to fight for education that aids cohesion while opposing vigorously policies which will result in segregation.”

Read the speech in full

15 October 2008