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Opinion: State Funded Faith Schools

Laura writes about State Funded Faith Schools

Opinion: State Funded Faith Schools

State Funded Faith Schools

Laura Brindley

W!ZARD News Author

State funded faith schools are considered to be a long standing example of English history to many, with their characteristics including the adaptation of certain acts of religious worship or symbolism into the school day, such as morning prayer and assemblies focused on a religious message.

Faith schools are also now more diverse than ever before following the 1997-2007 Labour government, which expanded state funded faith schools to include not just Christian and Jewish schools, but also those of Muslim, Sikh and Hindu faiths.

Plenty of people see the value in faith schools, to the extent to which they account for approximately one third of all English state funded schools. However, with increasing secularisation comes increasing scepticism about the value and fairness of them, with notable points of concern being that exemptions in the 2010 Equality Act allow admissions departments to favor applicants who belong to that faith – an issue further complicated by the fact that some of the highest Ofsted rated schools in a catchment area can be faith schools, leaving parents with an alternative religion, or indeed no religion at all, a dilemma.

Furthermore, with the recent spike in free schools, who do not have to follow the national curriculum, there is concern from some that religious beliefs and biases surrounding key subjects such as Science and History will take precedence over teaching the young in an objective, unbiased way. It should be remembered, however, that faith schools do have qualities which are appreciated by many.

For example, writing for the Guardian, Sophie Heawood noted that being taught the idea of God being an all loving being gave her comfort in childhood – a sense of a ‘warm bath’ that wherever you go and no matter what hurdles you face, you are always protected. It could be argued that this comfort is not present in education at non-religious schools. She also quotes Jeanette Winterson, who noted that individuals who were tasked with reading through The Bible from a young age in school had no issues with tackling Shakespeare’s plays, owing to their prior experience of the King James Bible, which was published at a similar time, with similar language used.

It is hard to dispute that the education and comfort gleaned from these experiences is anything but a good thing, but for some, it does raise the possibility of introducing secular and evidenced based education as an alternative, in order to equal the benefits offered by faith schools.

For example, the British Humanist Association (BHA) campaigns for the study of Religious Education to be objective and balanced, giving equal time to humanist, non-religious perspectives alongside each of the six ‘World Religions’. At present, some faith schools do not present Religious Education, or indeed other subjects such as History, Geography and Art, in this way. Therefore, the BHA campaigns against state funded faith schools.

The fact that free schools have expanded the rights of faith schools, paralleling the fact that England is becoming increasingly secular, presents a lively and intriguing debate surrounding the value and future of state funded faith schools, and one which does not have an obvious solution to combine the best interests of both sides of the argument.

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