Religious leaders in a lather over faith school vote

Religious leaders in a lather over faith school vote April 14, 2009

BRITISH teachers will vote this weekend on a motion to halt the spread of “faith” schools – and the Church of England is not at all happy about it.

The Rev Janina Ainsworth, Chief Education Officer for the Church of England, bleated:

The Rev Janina Ainsworth
The Rev Janina Ainsworth

The motion presented to the NUT conference completely ignores the successful heritage of the maintained education of this country, which has included the churches and other faith groups as key partners right from the start.

Pretending that faith is not a core part of many young people’s identities and trying to limit the expression of faith in schools will certainly not bolster community cohesion. Instead it will foster misunderstanding and resentment.

According to this report, the motion – at the annual National Union of Teachers conference in Cardiff – is calling for a halt on the development of new faith schools. It states that the long-term aim of the NUT should be:

The establishment of a single, Community Comprehensive state education system.

It argues that, whilst religion and philosophy should be taught in schools, religious groups on the other hand:

Should have no place in the control and management of schools.

Other points raised by the motion say that children have the right to meet other children from a variety of backgrounds and that faith schools undermine community cohesion.

Ainsworth added:

What would be particularly concerning would be the impact on NUT members working in church schools and other schools with religious character. This motion passing unamended would be like telling them that they were working in schools that are worse than useless.

In actual fact, of course, schools with religious character are popular with both students, parents and staff. This motion is out of tune with public opinion on the valuable role schools with religious character have within a state education system that values diversity.

But Keith Porteous-Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said:

There are two problems related to faith schools. The first is the problem of schools cherry-picking and the second one is to do with minority faith schools which are an obstacle for cohesion because they are mono-faith and largely mono-ethnic.

He added:

We have believed for 140 years that the state has no business in facilitating or subsidising proselytization, whether that is actively or passively.

Also this weekend the Association of Teachers and Lecturers will hold its annual conference where teachers will gather to debate whether collective worship should be removed from schools.

Both conferences follow hotly on the heels of news that a new Religious Studies GCSE will now cover religious sects and atheism; students will now be able to learn about the Rastafarians, the Druids and the Unification Church.

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