Sunday, 8 March 2009

Fisking the faith school leadership


Here is my Fisking of the letter published in the Guardian on Friday March 6th Faith in Religious Education by a selection of faith schools leaders from different religions. trying to defend the threat to faith based selection from the Liberal Democrat conference on educational policy.

The fundamental issue is that such selection for publicly funded schools is unjustified and biased and is used as a form of hidden selection contrary to the local and national educational needs. Unlike others, I have no issue with selection per se, provided it is above board and open to public scrutiny particular to avoid unjustified bias to either a socio-economic or religious or indeed any other basis - other than that which caters to the educational needs and potentials of the children to be educated

Tomorrow, the Liberal Democrats will debate education policy, including their position on the country's 7,000 schools with religious character.

Quite so, there are no sacred cows so this is as open to discussion as is any other educational issue

The debate needs to be informed by facts and not conjecture.

I agree. The facts and evidence show that faith schools repeatedly use hidden selection to filter in a higher quality sub-set of pupils and that once this is normalised out, faith schools perform no better than any other school based on any measurable criteria. In addition this creates a forced pretence amongst many parents for a loyalty to a religious they do not have, only doing this to get their children into such schools, which adds a positive bias to the still very low religious adherence figures in the UK . All this is done with taxpayer's money and no-one has ever shown how this can be justified in a largely secular and religiously plural society as the UK.

At a time when there is genuine concern about societal breakdown, so-called "faith schools" are not merely teaching citizenship, tolerance, cohesion and respect as academic subjects, but living them as part of their ethos.

Really. Well surely all schools should be teaching this anyway except faith schools have to explicitly justify they are doing this to explain or negate the repeated reports of individuals schools, teachers, teachers unions, headmasters and literature that indicates the opposite. Now where is the evidence that such faith schools are "living the ethos" and in some way that is equal to or better than secular schools, apart from their claims that they are doing this, is this all they have?

Just this week, the Shared Futures schools linking project ran the latest of its successful programmes in north London, where children from a range of faiths (and no faith) came together to learn from each other. Shared Futures has already brought together hundreds of children to share common values, winning praise from Ofsted by showing how faith schools can be at the vanguard of promoting community cohesion.

Because clearly there have been many doubts about this so they need to create a special initiative to dispel such fears. Of course if there were no faith schools there would have been no need to create this special initiative.

At the heart of the debate is a question about parental choice.

Yes and parents want to chose good schools not god schools.

We believe parents and students should have the right to choose the type of school where they can flourish academically, socially and spiritually.

What purpose is for schools to provide spiritual nourishment? Who wants a paternalistic government to choose what our spiritual needs are? Surely freedom of belief and conscience in our society means leaving it up to the individual to pursue without interference and enforced guidance from the government?

With faith schools making up over a third of the state schools in the UK, millions of parents are choosing them and only in cases where schools are full to capacity can faith be used as a criterion for allocating place.

Being over a third of all state schools it is no surprise that millions are choosing them, what choice to do they have? In some areas none! And in other areas- due to hidden selection - and with most parents trying to help their children by selecting their peers - they have no choice but to get their children into the local faith schools.

The idea of removing one of the means by which these schools of religious character protect and enhance their valued ethos would be an unjust way of responding to the increasing demand for them.

No the just way is to remove hidden selection and reveal these schools for what they are, using taxpayers money for religious privilege and to no educational benefit to our children.

Tomorrow, delegates at the Liberal Democrat conference will have a choice of supporting the heritage and future of these schools, or supporting a policy that would damage that which helps make them so successful.

This is a false dichotomy. What has made these schools appear successful is hidden selection, if the Liberal Democrats want to support good schools they should not be diverted by issues over god schools and should support policies to make better schools for all, a key step being removing hidden selection from faith schools and dispelling the myth that faith schools are good schools.

We hope that they choose to back the clear consensus of public opinion as reflected in the Guardian's own poll published this week, which showed 69% of those with school-age children support a religious ethos in schools.

One poll does not make a summer. I will examine this dubious poll in a future post. Now the facts are that the large majority of people in this country are secular and mostly only as parents does one discover that one is unwittingly funding such minorities and have to play along to obtain benefit from this double standard in favour of these minorities. Further the large majority of pupils are secular and atheist and their needs surely need to be taken into account to. The only reason there is support for faiht schools is due to the ongoing myth that faith schools are good schools and more parents need to know that this is not true.

I hope the Liberal Democrats do use reason and evidence in making their decision and ignore such sophistry, rhetoric and special pleading and support good schools not god schools.

What is really a concerns me here is the poor reasoning used by these leaders of faith schools in this letter. Either this does truly represent the way they think and is very strong evidence to stop them being responsible for the academic guidance of our pupils. Or they are well aware of the rhetoric and sophistry they are using here, in which case this is clear evidence that they are far from "living the ethos", making their claim to provide in their schools not only hollow but likely false.


n/a said...

So many attacks in so few sentences, I am impressed. I was educated in a faith school in the United States. I did not find hidden selection, as proposed in the article. I didn't find any at all. I might not have found it because I don't know what it is. It was not defined. I am left to assume what that it means what the author thinks it might mean. Then I can evaluate if it was there or not. I do enjoy though how the article set up the rules on how faith schools are to be evaluated and treated. I have to ask who died and made the author king? I find it arrogant to insist that the author is an education mastermind, and so thoroughly knows things that just have to be true. I wonder how many of the accusations actually hold any water? Being an atheist does not make a person qualified to deign what is a good school or a bad school. Being an atheist does make a person qualified to spout rancor and pervasive bitterness at will. It does make one qualified to spew venom as they seem fit according to the injustice they perceive from their limited and narrow worldview. Visit my blog

faithlessgod said...

Hi n/a I will call you Candlelight based on your blog.

How faith schools work in the states is quite irrelevant to this article. This is a red herring.

The issue of selection and hidden selection is well known and repeatedly discussed in the UK. Your ignorance is not an argument.

There are a number of studies that show that faith schools are good schools is a myth.

So all the "accusations hold water". Now do yours?

My article refers only to facts not opinions - mine, yours or anyone else's. Where are the facts that support your argument? None that I can see only unsubstantiated opinion based on ignorance and illogic. Presumably your faith school did not teach you how to reason very well, did it?