News | Wed, 15 Jul 2015
Caroline Lucas MP has urged the Government to make personal, social and health education (PSHE) compulsory in all schools, including free schools and academies.
The teaching of PSHE does not currently have a statutory footing, meaning there are significant discrepancies in how the subject is taught nationally. The MP has introduced a new bill which would require all state-funded schools to provide sex and relationships education (SRE).
The Green Party MP commented on the plans, "Under current legislation free schools and academies are exempt from a requirement to teach the subject. It's this stark inequality – which sees some young people receiving the very best PSHE lessons while others are left exposed to harm – which my bill seeks to address."
Lucas explained, "Ministers like to use the defence that 'SRE is already statutory'. But this is misleading. The current legal situation is confusing and young people are missing out on the enormous potential of PSHE. Only state secondary schools have to provide limited sex education. Academies and free schools do not have to teach SRE. The current law falls far short of ensuring all our children get the PSHE teaching they need and deserve."
The chair of the Education Committee said the Government had offered a "feeble" response to the plans, after education secretary Nicky Morgan gave a non-committal answer, saying only that she would "look at" options "to ensure PSHE is taught well everywhere."
The National Secular Society has repeatedly raised concerns about the teaching of sex and relationships education (SRE) in free schools and academies with a faith ethos.
The Society recently reported the case of one academy where SRE was taught in line with the "Maker's Instructions".
The King's Academy in Middlesbrough teaches "chastity outside of marriage" in SRE classes and their formal policy statement on sex education starts by stating that "human beings are created to a Divine design".
In another case, the NSS reported on the Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth's recently issued guidance to schools which stresses that "purity" and the "virtue of chastity" should be at the core of sex education.
Caroline Lucas' new bill is also aimed at tackling the sexual abuse of children by making sure they have knowledge and education about the meaning of consent. The MP has raised concerns that poor SRE in some schools leaves students unaware of their rights.
An NSS spokesperson commented: "We welcome this bill and hope it gains traction in the new parliament. It is long overdue that a child's right to objective, comprehensive and age-appropriate sex and relationships education was put on a statutory basis.
"Faith schools, free schools and academies should all be required to teach this subject. They should not be exempt for religious reasons. In this case the child's rights must come first."
The legislation was introduced as a Ten Minute Rule Bill on Wednesday 15 July 2015 but was opposed by Philip Davies MP, who said the widespread support for reform was nothing more than a "tyranny of the majority".
He said that parents should have the right to withdraw their children from sex education to "protect" their "values".
"We've been trying sex education … for decades," he complained, before adding there was "no evidence" that sex education made "any difference whatsoever". He warned repeatedly about "sex education fanatics", to apparent laughter in the House of Commons. "I'm glad everyone finds it so funny," he said later in the debate.
He went on to praise Italy for having "very low levels" of sex education. He said that the UK should not be "faffing around" with more sex education.
"Let's abandon sex education", the Conservative MP added. He went on to make an unclear connection between teachers who had been convicted of having sex with their students, and SRE being taught in schools. He even suggested that sex education had caused one pupil to rape another.
Davies has previously called for all sex education to be scrapped.
The bill successfully passed its first parliamentary hurdle with 183 MPs voting in favour and 44 voting against. It will now proceed to a second reading on Friday 22 January 2016.
News | Tue, 14 Jul 2015
New research has warned that a 'culture conducive' to non-violent extremism has emerged on campuses and that universities are still vulnerable to radical preachers, despite past warnings.
Opinion | Thu, 16 Jul 2015
The Quilliam Foundation promote a citizenship and human rights approach to tackling extremism. Charlie Evans is setting up the first Quilliam student group at Exeter University and hopes anyone who shares secular and liberal values will join this new student movement against political and religious extremism.
Since Islamic State established its Caliphate a year ago, I have become extremely interested in causes of extremism- political, religious or whatever. I am no expert. I am just a lanky Welshman, studying Economics at Exeter University, frustrated by injustice- frustrated that 700 British Muslims have travelled to Iraq and Syria, frustrated that an old schoolmate joined the neo-Nazi organisation National Action, irritated of the rise of Jewish extremism, notably the group Lehava who is committed to preventing the assimilation of Jews and non-Jews. I could go on.
These ideologies are not new phenomena and big ideological debates have occurred throughout history. The Christian Crusades, the sectarian battles between Catholics and secularists in France, the tensions in Ireland between Protestants and Catholics, the rise and fall of Nazism and the dangerous rise of Islamism in the twenty-first century, are all examples of such discourse. Many of these ideologies have fallen, whether through military might or by embracing liberal and secular values. We have not tolerated extremist ideologies of old. Yet Islamism in particular seems to be increasingly difficult to budge and rather is on the rise. The Islamist ideology will have its time, but if we are proactive then its demise will come with hastened speed.
And why is this? A combination of factors: questionable Western foreign policy, an increasing lack of opportunity for young people and the ease of access to social media networks to name a few. The Islamic State have been opportunists and taken advantage of these favourable conditions, driving their poisonous ideology and exporting it via social media platforms. Within the UK, we have begun to tolerate the intolerable. We do not stand together. We are afraid to offend. And secretly, there is something that rests within us, myself included, that actually fears this terror, worried that if we are too vocal, one of us may be on the receiving end of a grim attack.
I am establishing a Quilliam Society because we need to break this cycle of fear and terror. Extremist ideologues are more attractive to young people, so the counter-extremism effort has to be led by young people and that begins on university and college campuses. But rather bizarrely, university campuses have welcomed Islamist speakers without challenge. In London, Haitham al-Haddad has spoken at the University of Westminster and Hizb-ut-Tahrir have always tried to remain close with the student body. I am a firm opponent of the 'No Platform Policy' as I believe you win arguments by exposing flawed ideology. So we should not ban these speakers, but we need to put up an ardent challenge against them.
I am not the traditional 'secularist'. I am a member of the Church of England, this is because I believe in a secular society with strong religious communities as well as a robust non-religious community. The values of tolerance, respect and cultural integration are fundamental to creating a stable society.
And these are the values Quilliam Society will be promoting. We need a national student movement that does not just provide counter-narratives to extremist ideologues but instead champions and promotes a liberal narrative- a narrative that champions free speech, human rights, the rule of law, political and religious pluralism, and secularism. These are not universal values, as politicians often to like to throw around, given that these values are not shared unanimously. But these are majoritarian values. Students are naturally quite liberally minded therefore this is a movement that students of all backgrounds can rally around.
Extremists are in the tiny minority. Yet they seem to shout the loudest. This is no surprise. Any group that wishes to challenges the pre-existing status quo has to do so in order to get a platform. But we need to wake up and smell the coffee. Sometimes established liberal values need defending. I believe this starts with Quilliam and I hope that anyone who shares secular and liberal values will join this new student movement, and will stamp out extremism in the UK forever.
Charlie Evans is a student at Exeter University. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the NSS.
Opinion | Thu, 16 Jul 2015
If NHS Trusts want to provide pastoral care for all, then there is no rationale for restricting the role of chaplain to those of faith, argues Stephen Evans.
God forbid – but if you or any your family end up in hospital, and feel the need for some emotional or 'spiritual' support, it's likely to come in the form of a hospital chaplain.
When I had the unfortunate experience of spending some time in hospital after my daughter developed signs of meningitis, the doctors and nurses at St George's in Tooting provided all the support I could wish for. However, if I had felt the need for some additional support, I would have been faced with the choice of two Anglican chaplains; two Roman Catholic chaplains; two Muslim chaplains; a Free Church chaplain; or a Jewish chaplain.
That's because, despite pastoral care ostensibly being "for everyone", paid positions to provide such support are still ring-fenced for religious people with the necessary authorisation from their faith community.
Even some religious folk don't quite make the grade for authorisation. The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham recently stripped a Church of England clergyman of the license needed to take a hospital chaplaincy job because he is in a same-sex marriage. One wonders what LGBT staff and patients are to make of this.
Discrimination such as this within a publicly funded and universal service such as the NHS belongs to bygone age.
Ever mindful of the public's growing indifference to their Church, Anglicans in particular regard chaplaincy as an increasingly vital link between the Church and people's everyday lives. But the Church's desire for self-preservation shouldn't be allowed to stand in the way of necessary reforms to ensure the NHS offers a relevant and non-discriminatory service for all.
Hospitals aren't the nicest places for anyone to have to spend a great deal of time, and of course it is not only religious people who might appreciate a friendly face and support at times of distress.
But pastoral care should be an integral part of basic healthcare anyway. There is an argument to be had that the money spent on providing religious chaplains –around £23.5 million a year – might better be used to fund more nurses who would then have more time to support patients holistically.
But if NHS Trusts think pastoral support beyond what nursing staff can provide represents value for money, then the service needs to be secularised to make it fit for purpose in the modern-age.
Guidance published by NHS England earlier this year went some way to recognising this. It placed a new NHS duty on hospitals in England to consider the needs of non-religious patients by ensuring they have access to appropriate pastoral care. It highlighted the need to "respond to changes in the NHS, society and the widening understanding of spiritual, religious and pastoral care".
The acknowledgement that the non-religious should have equal access to appropriate pastoral support is long-overdue. Society has changed drastically in recent years, and a significant number of patients are not being best served by religious-only chaplains.
But the current approach of employing 'multi-faith chaplaincy teams', rather than providing a truly secular system of pastoral care, is problematic. With finite resources available, arranging the provision of pastoral care around religious identities seems somewhat outdated, inefficient and cumbersome. It also fails to acknowledge that around half the population don't identify with a religious belief.
Humanists are now building a network of humanist chaplains, albeit on a voluntary basis, but the reality is that the vast majority of people don't self-identify as Humanist either.
The truth is, there's no valid reason for continuing to organise NHS staff and patients' pastoral care around their religious beliefs and affiliations.
In the coming years, the NHS will be faced with a greater diversity of belief and cultural backgrounds than ever before. The pastoral support it offers will need to be highly adaptable and non-judgemental to meet the multiple needs of service users.
Some people will want religious care. Where that is needed, it should be provided by religious communities themselves. Nurses and/or secular pastoral support workers can absolutely facilitate that, but it shouldn't be the NHS's responsibility to provide it directly.
Debating chaplaincy with me recently on BBC radio, Rev. Paul Walker, an NHS chaplaincy team leader, acknowledged that when religious people come into hospital they tend to get their own support from their own vicars or ministers anyway.
Most parish priests very much see it as part of their role to visit their flock when they're sick, either in their homes or in hospital. And it's right that this kind of religious care is seen as their duty. The NHS shouldn't be spending its finite budgets on providing the 'healing touch of the Lord' or administering the Sacraments.
Even where a service is valuable and cherished by the public, there's still a debate to be had about how it's funded. I would argue that the Air Ambulance service, which prevents patients dying unnecessarily because of the delay in receiving prompt and appropriate medical care, is a highly valuable service. However, unlike religious chaplaincy, this service isn't funded by NHS Trusts, but by charitable donations.
The charitable trust model might be the ideal way for chaplaincy to be funded. If there is a real demand for faith-based chaplaincy, surely the public and religious organisations (who, let's face it, are sitting on bigger cash reserves that the NHS) would be happy to fund such a worthwhile initiative.
Those that seek to defend the Church's historically privileged status like to misrepresent the secularist position by portraying it as an attempt to deny people pastoral or religious care at their time of need.
But secular pastoral support wouldn't mean refusing people religious and sacramental services. Where patients require specific religious services, nursing or pastoral support staff could easily pick the phone up and call an imam, priest or whatever to arrange for that.
With religious care in the domain of the religions, hospitals would be free to provide a more general kind of inclusive pastoral support, in keeping with the NHS's principles of providing a comprehensive service – available to all and providing best value for taxpayers' money and the most effective, fair and sustainable use of finite resources.
Opinion | Tue, 14 Jul 2015
Is this the way to unite society – with faith schools teaching the supremacy of their ideology and how wrong the rest of us are, asks Dennis O'Sullivan, a headteacher with thirty-five years of experience in education.
Teaching British Values is now compulsory in our schools and we are drawing in on ourselves, into Little Britain, because of a fear of the actions of a tiny, tiny minority of so-called radicalised British Muslim youth.
As we clamour for restrictions on immigration, alongside a liberal's fear of talking about race, we label some communities as dangerous and not very British. Fear of Islam is irrational but encouraging Muslims to retreat as some sort of alien breed is counter to our democracy and the values we claim as our national identity. And it alienates Muslims.
Faith schools are marching towards segregation and the creation and strengthening of racial barriers between communities. The government adores free schools and plans to open another 500, many of them single faith schools.
In 2014 there were 6,848 state funded faith schools – about a third of the total and around a 3% increase in the last decade. Jewish and Muslim faith schools, a tiny minority of these, increased from 37 to 48 and from 7 to 18 respectively over the last 7 years. 1.8 million students are in faith schools. Most of these are Catholic or Church of England primary schools.
In 36 years in multi-cultural East London schools and a largely mono-cultural Hertfordshire town I have taught around 7,000 children aged 11-18. I have known many churchgoing Christian children, active Catholics, practising Hindus and Sikhs. Muslims studied alongside other faiths and we had small numbers of Baptists, Buddhists and at least 8 Jehovah Witnesses. But never a Jewish child.
I spoke to a London headteacher about the number of Jewish children in his 1000 strong school. The school had many Jewish children until the opening of a nearby Jewish Free School at which point all Jewish children left. If we segregate children by religion are we surprised they become segregated socially and that elements of separatism will pervade?
As more Jewish kids are taken into faith schools and fewer are taught alongside non Jews should we be surprised that the horror of anti Semitism is prospering in Britain, with more attacks in 2014 than for decades?
There is a video of the Muslim IQRA Primary School in Slough which starts with a boy doing morning prayers in Arabic with the other assembled children. This faith school was created because, "the community wanted it." The allocation of community status is an interesting one: is there just one Muslim community; just one English community? Despite support for our school's planning application people living within 100 metres of the school have designated themselves "the community." And really did expect their views to take prominence. It seems we can all claim community support if we narrow our constituency sufficiently. In theory, non Muslims could attend the IQRA school but they don't. My understanding is that at least some Muslim schools ban stringed instruments, singing, dancing and figurative art because they conflict with the teachings of the Koran which suggests they can lead to sexual arousal and idolatry.
The Catholic Church has refused to open further academies until the government changes its policy on a 50% cap on the control of admissions. This cap on single faith control of admissions upset Jewish community leaders, too, but the Government says that, "new faith schools established with taxpayers money in areas where there is a shortage of good places will be available to all who need them." Why wouldn't faith schools, all built upon such positive principles want to attract others to their moral outlook?
I worry about the curriculum in all schools, with the drive in reverse gear to the artless, toneless mind-numbing rote learning, speed writing and endless test-practising menu. However, what do faith schools teach? I was taught the Catholic view of many things, which included virgin birth, resurrection and the chastity of priests. I was 18 before I dared tempt hellfire by entering a non Catholic place of worship.
In July 2013, a state-funded orthodox Jewish girls' school in north London was admonished after it was discovered that students had their GCSE exams censored, with questions about evolution deliberately blacked out of science papers. The OCR examinations board found that 52 papers in two GCSE science exams sat by pupils at Yesodey Hatorah Senior girls' school in Hackney had questions on evolution obscured, making them impossible to be answered.
When we separate from others we allow gossip, exaggeration and ignorance to take hold, playing into the hands of those who want to divide people. David Green, chief executive of the think-tank Civitas, said, "Some Muslim schools in Britain have become part of a battleground for the heart and soul of Islam. Their aim is to turn children away, not only from Western influence, but also from liberal and secular Muslims." Mr Green says that children in some of the Islamic schools are not being prepared to live in a free and democratic British society. Indeed, they are being made to despise our culture.
It is wrong to go down the Daily Mail's 'one school does it so they all do' route in condemning the new government sponsored free school, Islamic Al-Madinah school in Derby. Here, allegedly, girls have to sit at the back of classrooms, boys and girls are segregated at meal times and there is a strict dress code even for non Muslim staff Sensibly, Manzoor Moghal, chairman of the Muslim Forum, declared: "We are not living in rural Pakistan or a Taliban-run region of Afghanistan. Such superstitious, divisive nonsense should have no place in a British school." Whose voice will be considered typical?
We don't know what goes on in religiously separated schools so I guess we have to believe the Mail when they add, using anonymous sources, "Growing Government worries over what is being taught in the quickly rising number of private and publicly-funded Islamic schools has led to reports that the home intelligence service, MI5, is to send in undercover agents posing as teachers to check if children are being brainwashed in Islamic radicalism." By 'eck.
Might the reality be that some or most faith schools develop thoughtful, tolerant, responsible and caring young citizens as Ofsted reported on the JFS (Jewish Free School). Their "religious outlook is orthodox, and one of its main aims is "to ensure that Jewish values permeate the school". Jewish Studies is a core subject for all students all of whom take the GCSE examination in Religious Studies. Ivrit and Israel Studies are included as part of Jewish Education.
King Solomon High School in Ilford also highlights the importance of Israel, wanting to teach "a positive and proud sense of Jewish identity built upon a sound knowledge of Jewish practice and observance and an appreciation of the centrality of Israel in Jewish life".
I do worry when I see so many children waving the flag of Israel on a school website; we might all be expected to worry if Muslims were pictured with the Saudi flag enthusiastically paraded. We worry anyway if the English flag is given prominence.
We should live, work and study side by side in mutual respect of different traditions and cultures. We should celebrate and proclaim the characteristics that can bring us together. Let's promote acceptance of others, both within the school community and in the wider world, incorporating values such as caring, kindness and charity. Study together in secular schools for a better world.
Dennis O'Sullivan is a headteacher with over 35 years of experience in education. This article originally appeared on The News Hub, and is republished here with the permission of the author.
News | Mon, 13 Jul 2015
The Government has approved plans for a new Sikh ethos free school in Derby, despite the fact that the City Council has repeatedly stated that there is no need for new primary places.
News | Thu, 16 Jul 2015
The Kurdistan Secular Centre (KSC) is appealing for international help and support to promote secularism and the separation of religion and state.
Survivors of 'honour'-based abuse and forced marriage have chosen to leave their families behind, often as a means of staying alive. In doing so, they form part of a new scattered community of disowned human beings who are vulnerable and in urgent need of support. Yet, many are still being met with a lack of understanding from local authorities and services.
NSS Speaks Out
The NSS' opposition to the farcical prosecution of James McConnell, a Christian preacher, was noted in the Belfast Telegraph and by the Christian Institute in the past week.
Our campaigns manager Stephen Evans spoke on BBC WM, BBC Tees and BBC Radio Oxford on the subject of NHS chaplaincy provision. The Independent quoted the NSS on this topic last week.
Additionally our spokesperson for Scotland, Alistair McBay, had two letters published in the Scotsman on "religious apartheid in the education system" and on the need for inclusive education.
Quotes of the Week
"The church's sporadic record of compelling obedience to its teachings through violence and coercion is a cause for humility and shame."
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Times (£).
"While we agree with [Sadiq] Khan that it would be great to see a Muslim mayor for London – as indeed it would to see a black mayor or woman mayor – above all it would be good to see a mayor who could truly command the trust of Londoners irrespective of their colour, creed, race, or gender."
Khalid Mahmood MP and former Labour MP Shahid Malik, who have accused Sadiq Khan of exploiting the aftermath of the 7/7 London attacks for personal gain in his bid to become London Mayor.