The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has been strongly rebuked by Humanists UK for saying that, in ‘schools that are not of a religious character, confidence in any personal sense of ultimate values has diminished.’
Speaking in a House of Lords debate on education this week, Welby said:
[The Church has made] a clear move towards schools that not only deliver academic excellence, but which have the boldness and vision to do so outside the boundaries of a selective system. The Church of England’s educational offer to our nation is church schools that, in its own words, are deeply Christian, nurturing the whole child spiritually, emotionally, mentally, as well as academically, yet welcoming the whole community.
A major obstacle to our education system is a lack of clear internal and commonly held values. We live in a country where an overarching story which is the framework for explaining life has more or less disappeared.
We have a world of unguided an competing narratives where the only common factor is the inviolability of personal choice. Which means that for schools that are not of a religious character, confidence in any personal sense of ultimate values has diminished. Utilitarianism rules. And skills move from being talents held for the common good which we are entrusted with as benefits for all, to being personal possessions for our own advantage.
The challenge is the weak, secular and functional narrative that successive governments have sought to insert in the place of our historic Christian-based understanding, whether explicitly or implicitly.
Humanists UK, which campaigns for a fully inclusive education system in which children are not defined or divided on the grounds of religion or belief, described the remarks as a “shameful”.
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:
This is a shameful use of the privileged position that Anglican bishops enjoy in Parliament and an alarmingly wrong-headed and divisive attack on our shared values.
It is incredibly worrying that the head of an organisation running a quarter of all state-funded schools in England can stand up and attack the values of hard-working teachers and governors, while also implying that the non-religious majority in this country exist in a moral vacuum.
In doing so, the Archbishop has effectively outed himself as someone who is deeply prejudiced against both non-Christians and non-Church schools. This is not to mention his appalling attempt to mis-sell the inclusivity of Church schools, most of which continue to religiously discriminate against children in their admission arrangements.
What trust can we place in Church schools to promote the British values of ‘mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faith and beliefs’, if the head of the Church falls so short of doing this himself? He should apologise.