Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Accord Coalition: changing the terms of the debate on faith schools

Sometimes it's worth saying when something is brilliant. The Accord Coalition is brilliant and I really want to celebrate it.

For many years I've wanted a group like this to be campaigning for reform of state-funded faith schools in this country. It's simply unfair, unjust and unchristian for schools funded by all to be only available to some. Everyone's taxes go to support these schools and yet these schools, to a greater or lesser extent, discrimate against people not of their own faith. How Christian is it for Christians to keep the best schools (and they do argue they are better schools) to themselves? I understand Christianity to be about putting others first, service, making the last first. Yet we have people in this country defending their right for Christian-only (or majority) schools. This ain't right.

And now there's the Accord coalition, a multi-faith coalition of groups arguing from a faith and ethical base against the systematic injustice of this system. I'm hoping the terms of the argument are changing and the defenders of faith schools can no longer claim that the only people against this system are "hardline secularists."

There's been a few letters in the Times about this, here's how the debate's been going.

Multifaith plea: State-sanctioned discrimination must not continue

Faith schools and contraditions

Faith and confusion


Blogger Paul Oakley said...

Thanks for this post. Here in the USA we're often insulated from the goings on in most of the world until they reach crisis.

Of course, each country has its own unique church/state and discrimination issues. Some really big ones in the US. But I can't help thinking about the disgraceful century of the Republic of Ireland funding Roman Catholic institutions which, the world now knows, were abusive in the extreme.

I just can't understand how anyone who is not simply mean-spirited can't grasp that tax money should never be used for the benefit of a subset of the nation rather than for the benefit of the whole and that public support should always be joined with public control and public access.

But I can't see that any country really gets that. Certainly the US doesn't. At least not consistently.

7:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking as someone who has actually worked in Christian faith schools in Britain's inner cities, your assumption that so many exclude people 'not of faith' is inaccurate and unjust.

There are many longstanding Roman Catholic and Church of England schools who simply act as the local school of choice for thousands of families in inner cities - regardless of their faith or lack of faith. It is no surprise that many Asian families in particular elect to send their children to a Roman Catholic school because of the faith element match with a generally inclusive, tolerant approach.

The problem at present lies more with new faith schools run by Evangelical Christian and Islamic groups - which are far more explicit in their indoctrinaton and far more rigid on admissions.

And to finish, I speak as a secularist who would actually like to see our state become more like the French and American models - but I'm also a pragmatist and see the good work most faith schools are doing to nurture the academic AND ethical mind of students. Many state schools are devoid of the ethical / spiritual dimension and are more like production lines than communities.

11:24 am  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

Anonynous, this is exactly the point that Accord is making, some faith schools do let in people of other faiths - I attended a C of E school with a majority Muslim population in the West Midlands. What the Accord coalition is saying is that ALL schools should be obliged to do this by law. I know that a faith school in Bolton definitely does not let in people of other faiths (except in some exceptional circumstances).

11:33 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But the way you frame the debate is as thought it is a 'Christians vs Atheist' issue when it is broader than that.

It is also noted that you fail to mention the problems highlighted by inspections of new Islamic schools. Why is that?

11:56 am  
Anonymous a said...

The problem with faith schools, as with too many other issues, is that it eventually becomes tied up in the position of the Established church.

That, and middle class parents who want hurdles that they can jump over but most others won't. I can believe that in some areas, forcing faith schools to accept those that live nearest to the school could actually lead to a more homogeneous student population - it probably would do at my old C of E school.

9:34 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

Anonymous, to answer your question:

Because the majority of faith schools in this country are Church of England; because my own personal experience has involved C of E schools; because I am Christian and so feel able to argue this point with fellow Christians from a Christian persepective; and because I know almost nothing about Islamic state-funded schools.

I disagree with Islamic discrimination as much as Christian discrimination in faith schools admission and employment policies. But I don't know much about it. I'm happy to hear about those issues if you know about them.

1:56 pm  

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