The Faith School Farce

Toby Smith 20 January 2008

Concerns have recently been voiced about parents playing the system in order to get their children into so called faith schools. As the Times reported, the rise in late baptisms into the Catholic Church, dubbed ‘the year-five epiphany’, has led to concerns about middle class parents playing the system.

There are worries that in doing so they monopolise places in the best state schools, which tend to be faith schools. But the real issue at stake is whether state education should be allocated on the basis of faith. We need to remove faith schools from the public education system.

Entrance criteria are necessary to aid application procedure for schools, but to base procedure on something so personal as religious faith is absurd. It is no wonder so many people are exploiting the system. With questions on application forms synonymous with ‘do you believe in the Christian God?’ determining if your child goes to a failing comprehensive or a faith-school with a shining Ofsted report, who’s not going to lie?

There is no way to test religious faith objectively. You may as well ask them if they prefer Mozart to Beethoven.

It is currently decided on church attendance but many parents would happily sit through two hours a week of what they thought of as nonsensical drivel in the hope giving their child the best education.

I have my own axe to grind on this issue. When I was leaving middle school, my application to the best state school, a Church of England school, in my hometown was rejected.

While my church-going friends who lived two doors down from me happily got on the bus to school every day, I had to walk to a local independent school. While things clearly turned out quite well in the end, it has always troubled me that my choice of school was hampered, not by my location or my academic performance, but because the box on the application form for my minister to sign was conspicuously empty. This is nothing short of state-sponsored discrimination on religious grounds.

Given that Christian faith schools tend to be the most successful state schools, we are surely putting the vast Muslim, Hindu and secular population of Britain at a disadvantage. What role do faith schools play in British society over secular schools? There are Sunday schools, madrassas, and the like for teaching children about their respective religions. The moral education that religious schools arguably provides is questionable, to say the least.

The only practical difference between faith schools and secular schools is a prayer with assembly and a discriminatory application process. If parents would like their children to have a religious day to day life, there is no reason why this shouldn’t take place outside a state school’s timetable.

In many schools, facilities are provided for Muslim students to pray; if facilities are provided for private religious activity in schools, then there is no reason why we can’t remove the religious framework from the running of schools.

It is not the place of the government to sponsor religious activity of any kind. Secularism is what helped separate the modern from the pre-modern. One of the reasons why British society is one of the most harmonious in the world is due to the huge diversity that we enjoy. In splitting children on a religious basis, we risk turning this societal diversity into societal divisions.

While Christianity is so heavily ingrained in our education system that the end of state faith schools is unlikely, I see few redeeming features with the current faith schools.

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o long as faith schools continue to outperform secular state schools, parents will sit in church for the good of their children in an effort to navigate a broken system. This will continue while places in school are allocated according to faith.

Toby Smith