I wholeheartedly support the No More Faith Schools campaign. Education should level the playing field despite background and give access to the latest advances in science and human progress and encourage freethought and inquiry whilst religion contradicts and/or discourages all of the above. Children are not extensions of their parents but individuals with human rights. Why must they be divided and segregated based on their parents’ beliefs when no such divisions are acceptable when it comes to parents’ race, sexuality or political opinions. An end to faith schools would mean that we finally see our children as citizens and not as the property of their parents and that we as a society value them more than any faith or belief.
Maryam Namazie, Human rights campaigner
Faith schools contribute to the fragmentation of our education system and the religious segregation of pupils. This is not conducive to social integration, cohesion and equal opportunities for all. That's why I'm supporting the 'No more faith schools' campaign. I want to see an education system that is free from religious control and that brings together pupils from all backgrounds and beliefs.
Peter Tatchell, Human rights campaigner
In today’s society, it is more important than ever that our children can enjoy a diverse and fair education, and have the chance to learn from each other’s differences. The National Secular Society’s No More Faith Schools campaign is an important step in this direction and provides a platform for those who want an inclusive education to show their support for that.
Dan Snow, Historian, broadcaster and television presenter
I am happy to join the No More Faith Schools campaign. Education must be secular.
Lord Desai, Economist and Labour politician
If we are aiming for an inclusive society, the fewer divisions we can impose on our growing children the better.
Virginia Ironside, Journalist, agony aunt and author
If we want ALL our children to grow up in a cohesive and respectful society free from prejudice and a ghetto mentality, faith schools will not achieve that aim. It is for parents and their church leaders to bring their children up in their chosen faith, the state should not fund faith schools.
Religion should be a personal choice for the child, a choice made when they are old enough to form their own opinion. Faith schools are simply a recruitment drive for a belief system.
Allowing schools to discriminate against students on the basis of their parents' religion is socially divisive and fosters intolerance towards people of other faiths. The government should be seeking to eliminate discrimination in the UK school system, not increase it.
Where I live we have no choice - my kids have to go to a faith school which flaunts the rules and has told my kids that they 'will pray'.. What more do you need?
I am signing this petition because segregation on religious grounds is detrimental to society and to the individual child living in a multicultural society. I believe in a wholly secular education system. Children need to be taught to think critically and would benefit from learning philosophy in school, with religion being taught as part of that.
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Wed, 16 May 2018 14:45
Testimonial: The increasingly assertive religious ethos of Church of England schools undermines the commonly-held idea that they aren't really faith schools. And, a teacher writes, the change is being driven by the church itself.
I have been teaching in a Church of England (VC) primary school for over a decade. At first I had no problem with teaching in a school with a Christian ethos. The values were basically simple humanitarian ones but framed as being based on Jesus's teachings about being kind. Assemblies often involved retelling a Bible story but focusing on the value behind the story rather than preaching. We said a simple, short 'grace' before lunch but it didn't seem like a big deal.
Over the years things have shifted. We had an influx of evangelical teachers and changes in the governing body. The new vicar was far more enthusiastic about his faith and seemed to use every opportunity to appeal to the children to come to the church – no doubt because the attendance was only a small elderly group. He was earnest about 'his special book' and overtly evangelical in his delivery.
After each SIAMS inspection (a check which evaluates how far a church school is a "distinctively and recognisably Christian institution"), a shift was happening. We lost the 'VC' part of the school name. A lengthy end of the day prayer was added. I even saw some teachers berating children for not joining in. Children were drafted in to help lead assemblies. Posters openly promoting God were on display along with more visual representations of our status as a church school.
Some staff found it difficult to separate their personal faith from their RE lessons; they didn't seem to understand that being a 'Church school' shouldn't mean proselytising to an audience who were mainly from non-religious families.
Things look to be getting worse. The church seemed to want to lose the distinction between VC and VA status schools (I would never have applied to work in a VA school). The Church of England claims to provide an education for pupils of all faiths or none, but I believe that is just a mask for their desire to evangelise to pupils (and gain possible converts from children not raised in the Christian faith).
The new syllabus for RE was written by a commercial organisation and the Christianity element was more akin to Bible studies (other faiths were covered in a more traditional way). Many of the Christianity units were based on the Understanding Christianity resource. This was rolled out as being suitable for teaching about Christianity in all schools, but disappointingly the balance between teaching the faith and teaching about the religion are blurred to the point that many parts of it are only fit for use in a Sunday school. This resource is promoted by the new Statement of Entitlement from the Church of England that expects a Bible studies approach to Christianity.
We're awaiting our next SIAMS inspection under the new framework. It concerns me that the new evangelical zeal of the Church of England is going to demand a more rigorous application of the 'Christian ethos' to allow all children to 'experience life in all its fullness' (coded language for believing in Jesus as their saviour). I feel that it is a desperate move by the Church of England to capture a new audience as the realisation that many churches are close to the point of collapse due to falling attendance. It's unlikely to work as parental support is so low.
My final remark has to be that I'm extremely grateful that my children's local school is not a faith school. If it was I feel I would need to withdraw them from collective worship and, quite possibly, RE. That would disappoint me greatly as I believe every school should be a school for all pupils whatever their parents' faith (or none). It's time to say a resounding NO to any more faith schools.
The views expressed in our blogs are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the views of the NMFS campaign. Please get in touch to share your story
Students forced to lead prayers and made to attend Mass – the reality of faith schools for non-religious pupils
Wed, 04 Apr 2018 16:00
Testimonial: A Sixth Former gives a student's account of what it's like to attend a faith school if you aren't religious, and shows the reality of some faith schools for pupils who don't share the school's enthusiasm for religion.
One might be forgiven for thinking that Britain is a de facto secular country. We have religious freedom and generally speaking we enjoy freedom from religion too. After all, we are not seeing apostates, atheists, and agnostics executed in this country or subject to systematic persecution. There is one group of people in particular however who do not enjoy this latter freedom; the non-religious students who attend faith schools, like me.
We are allowing, with little opposition from any mainstream party, for a third of our state education to be provided in so-called 'faith schools', where religious organisations control the school, with the school's running costs provided by the state.
The case against faith schools is well explained by the National Secular Society and I have no intention of simply repeating the arguments. Instead I want to provide an account of what faith schools are really like for pupils. I believe accounts like mine, on my experiences so far at my local Catholic School, will show what the reality is for so many pupils in our state schools.
I was sent to my school in 2011. With effectively irreligious parents, who even sympathise with many of the criticisms against some of the failures of the Church in the past and present, I found this decision very confusing and protested it at the time. Nonetheless, my other school options were limited. Faith schools are so often presented as providing choice for parents and students, but this was a school that I never wished to attend. I was sent there because it was the best performing local school, but many parents and pupils have no choice at all in their local schools; so often faith schools are the only viable option.
Interestingly, I was permitted to stop attending my local Anglican church after my admission, leading me to believe that I was only made to attend so that I could be signed off as a practising Christian by the vicar, a widespread practice across the country. Under the admissions policy, this gave me an advantage over other people; another example of the unfairness of faith schools. According to statistics published in the school's Diocesan Report, we can deduce that there are around 24 non-Catholics at school with over 650 pupils. This hardly seems diverse or representative of my local community.
I was apprehensive before I started, and I was disappointed when I arrived. Since I have started attending my school, I have felt out-of-place because I feel so philosophically compromised by what the school is doing. I have been called out for not standing up in Mass. I've been told that "not responding with a significant amplitude to prayers" amounts to not supporting the school. I've had a request to self-withdraw from Mass denied on the grounds that it would 'encourage others to do so'. Despite parents supposedly having the legal right to withdraw their children, I've also had a request from my parents (who subsequently withdrew it upon its rejection) dismissed on the same grounds.
I've also seen students refusing to lead prayer told that "they have to" and that they should "go to another school" if they're unwilling.
Despite being a firm believer in equality myself, my school's SRE policy refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of same-sex marriage and clearly states its disapproval of gay relationships. Just imagine how homosexual pupils are made to feel by that. I expect better from a publicly funded school.
I have one final year left at school. Little can be done about my situation now, I'm too far into my education, but I think it has left a permanent scar on me. I will not look, as many do, at my secondary education with joy and nostalgia, but with disappointment and neuralgia. I urge readers to make their opposition to faith schools known to their MPs, join the NSS, and campaign in as many ways as they can to see this institutional discrimination come to an end.
This post was written by a current Sixth Form student at a Catholic faith school. The identity of the student has been kept anonymous at their request. This was first posted on the National Secular Society website.
Mon, 02 Apr 2018 16:43
Testimonial: As a priest, I was always suspicious of the new parent lurking at the back of church clutching the hand of a four-year-old child. You knew that within a couple of weeks the application forms for the local faith school would appear and once signed you would never see them again.
The village where I lived had a great school, but there was a section of parents who wanted their children to attend a faith school and would do anything to make that happen. They would even endure months of church services and even Confirmation to secure that magic signature on the form.
Somehow they felt that faith schools offered a far better deal and were the nearest thing to private education without having to pay.
Perhaps they were right, but it is very easy to offer a higher standard of education when you are a selective school.
The issue is that faith schools attract the middle classes, fewer children on free school meals and are not encumbered with the problems of a difficult catchment area. They often attract the best teachers because they are easier to teach in and have better standards of behaviour. This isn't down to some magic formula that the spirituality of the school calms the children, it is the fact that they, on the whole get brighter kids from better off families with supportive parents.
The trade off for parents is that to get this superior education they have to allow their children to be indoctrinated into the traditions of that particular school and the faith on which it is based. In a modern and secular society this has many potential dangers.
The trouble with many faiths is that they are quite divisive. By their very nature, they work on the principle that they are the right and only way to God and every other way is wrong or flawed.
Many teach beliefs that are contrary to the views of the society in which we live. How can a faith school teach that all faiths are equal when the theology of that faith demands its followers to believe that they are the only true way to God?
Christianity and Islam both state this very clearly and don't believe anyone who says that us not the case.
Homosexuality, creation, gender separation and contraception are just some areas where these schools are at odds with the world. In some schools, children are taught outdated views on God that verge on the medieval.
But is it right to have any religion in school at all? Under the Education Act, each school is required to have some form of collective act of worship. Children coming together to pray, sing or act out a faith story. Perhaps this was acceptable thirty years ago, but it's place in society has now gone.
Only seven per cent of the population attend church on a regular basis, so why is it that schools up and down the country should act as recruiting agents for God?
This is an outdated and quite farcical concept. Many teachers find it difficult to maintain a balance in their approach and some find the whole idea very uncomfortable.
I believe that the only place for faith in our schools is as a subject delivered on the same level as maths and science. It is important that it is still taught and should be compulsory for every student to learn, but as a factual and not spiritual discipline.
Religious beliefs should not be forced upon anyone and should always be discussed in an age appropriate and sensitive manner.
Religious practice in schools often has a detrimental effect on students and pushes them away from exploring the concept of God rather than opening their minds to it.
In the age of rising fundamentalism, it is important that any aspect other than the academic study of faiths is stripped from our education system. Students should be free to learn about perceived beliefs in an environment of critical study and analysis.
Religious dogmas and outdated cultural concepts have to be allowed to be challenged and not received as absolute truths.
Secularism in schools will become a necessity for future generations. Schools will have to become places of intellectual safety and out of the control of religious groups with vested interests.
Faith must become a subject and not a means of pupil selection and prayers and worship put back into the hands of those who seek to propagate belief well away from places of education.
Fri, 30 Mar 2018 16:03
National Offer Day is when many parents fall victim to religious discrimination or discover they've been allocated a religious school against their wishes. Stephen Evans argues that a move towards a secular education system might make school offer day a little less fraught.
Anxious parents find out today if their child has managed to get into the primary school of their choice. In some cases, where parents haven't been successful, they may well be the victims of religious discrimination.
Year upon year another tranche of parents discover first-hand some of the injustices that occur when religion and state entwines to educate the nation's children.
In some cases parents will discover that their preferred local school is oversubscribed, and being a faith school has prioritised children whose parents are members of, or who practise, a particular faith – or any faith at all in some cases. The non-religious often have to get to the very back of the queue.
Maybe the successful applicants' parents had their children baptised, perhaps their family dutifully attend church every Sunday. Whatever hoops they've jumped through, they've managed to get the vicar's precious blessing. How ridiculous it is that in modern Britain clergy act as gatekeepers to publicly funded services.
In this way faith schools perpetuate a form of discrimination that simply wouldn't be tolerated in any another area of public life.
An absence of a secularist political framework results in discrimination. The equality law exemptions that make discrimination against children on the grounds of their (or their parents') religion or belief legal in school admissions exist only at the insistence of religious groups to facilitate their schools – for which the taxpayer picks up the bill.
In other cases, where faith-based schools are undersubscribed, the opposite problem often occurs, and children are allocated places at religious school that their parents don't want them to attend.
In recent years the shortage of school places has seen local authorities attempting to place children of non-religious parents in religious schools, children of Christian parents in Sikh schools and in one case a child from a Muslim family was allocated a place in an Orthodox Jewish school.
Both of these vexing issues concerning school admissions have the same solution. A move towards a secular education system would mean no child would be discriminated against on account of their parents' religion or belief. At the same time it would mean no child would ever be compelled to attend a school of a different religious tradition to their own, or their parents'.
It would of course mean that parents would have to take responsibility for their child's religious upbringing – but that really is their responsibility anyway, rather than the state's.
And wouldn't it better all-round if our publicly funded schools educated children of all faith backgrounds together and stuck to promoting the societal values we share without trying to stick religious labels on either those values or the children they teach?
This should be done as a matter of principle, but an end to faith schools and the resulting discrimination might also make school offer day a little less fraught than it currently is.
This article was originally posted on the National Secular Society website on 18 April 2016.
Thu, 11 Jan 2018 15:58
National Secular Society: research highlights a systemic bias against secular schooling, Megan Manson explores the tactics used by religion to infiltrate education – and how parents are fighting back.
In November, the National Secular Society got a call from a parent whose daughter was being forced to pray against her wishes.
The girl, who attends a non-religious primary school, was told that she must bow her head during prayers held in an assembly by an external evangelical group that comes to the school to tell Bible stories. She was happy to attend the assemblies with her peers, and to sit quietly and listen attentively, but her strongly-held atheist worldview meant that she did not wish to participate in the act of worship. The school argued with the parent that the pupil should bow her head in order to 'conform' with the other pupils, and as a sign of 'respect'.
But what happened to respecting the child's fundamental human right to freedom of conscience? Or the father's right to a secular education for his daughter? He had, after all, opted for a non-religious school. So why were his wishes for a non-religious education for his daughter not respected?
This case is testament to a battle being waged in Britain's education system. On the one side are families, community members and (often) class teachers who just want to see pupils get a good education without religion sticking its nose in. On the other side are headteachers, government representatives, academy chains and religious institutions who want to assert their authority and their particular ideology on school communities. In this battle, it's clear to see who is David and who is Goliath.
More high-profile cases of parents speaking out against school evangelism have come to light in recent times. In October, parents in Tunbridge Wells mobilised against CrossTeach, an evangelical group who had reportedly been telling pupils that "men can't marry men" and that if they did not believe in God "they would not go to a good place when they died". Working together, the parents raised their complaints with their school, with some taking the step of withdrawing their children from CrossTeach assemblies.
The school in question, St John's Church of England Primary School, is an Anglican faith school. But one of the parents pointed out: "In Tunbridge Wells the vast majority of primary schools are affiliated with the Church so it's not like you have a choice whether you expose your children to this."
In this case David fortunately triumphed over Goliath. As a result of the complaints, the school decided to cease inviting CrossTeach to lead assemblies or take lessons – but not without a great deal of indignant foot-stamping. Headteacher Dan Turvey told Kent Livethat he did not believe the parents' concerns "have any real substance" and their decision to exercise their right to withdraw their children from CrossTeach assemblies "made the situation unmanageable and a distraction".
The local church also saw fit to howl disdain and disgust at the parents and their dissent. Rev Giles Walter, who had been taking assemblies at St John's Church of England Primary School, accused the parents of being "extremist", saying: "The behaviour of this small group of parents has hurled a hand grenade into a previously happy and harmonious environment. They seem determined to drive mainstream Christian teaching out of our church school: and it is they and not ourselves who should be charged with extremism and non-inclusiveness."
Far from David throwing a rock, the Church portrays upstart parents as extremists hurling hand grenades. In common with bullies everywhere, it paints its victims as the villains.
The truth is that more often than not, the Church wins. Back in 2009, parents and governors at Ladymead Community School in Somerset petitioned against a proposed merger with the St Augustine of Canterbury School. The primary cause of contention was that the new school resulting from the merger, the Taunton Academy, would be a Church of England faith school. Ladymead governor Chairman Nick Evelyn said in the Somerset County Gazette: "Many parents chose to send their children to Ladymead and now fear for their education. They don't want a faith secondary schooling for their children or they'd have sent them to St Augustine's, which is a church school." A survey was held at a consultation meeting for the proposal, which showed 100% opposition.
But the pleas from parents, governors and school staff at Ladymead went unheeded, and the merger went ahead in 2010 with the support of the St Augustine headteacher and Taunton MP Jeremy Browne. Perhaps they regret not listening to the parents now. In its last Ofsted inspection this January, the Taunton Academy was rated 'inadequate'.
The combined might of church and state, and its awesome power to crush the right of ordinary families to freedom from religion, revealed itself more recently in a similar case of a school merger. In October, parents and children of Trafalgar College were stirred into action when they discovered that as a result of a merger with Great Yarmouth Charter Academy, the College would lose its religious neutrality and become a Christian school. The families were so opposed to this move, and so frustrated that their concerns were not being listened to, that they took to the streets in protest. Their banners, which bore slogans such as "Say no to forced religious designations" and "Our children deserve a choice & a voice", said it all.
But all to no avail. It turns out that the merger had been agreed months before a public consultation was held. The academy chain behind the merger, Inspiration Trust, didn't even give families the chance to fight back.
This underhand method of giving parents the illusion of choice and control when in fact that choice is being ripped away from them is the latest weapon in the faith schools' arsenal: stealth tactics. It seems that education and religious authorities are aware that families are increasingly rejecting the very concept of faith schools, and are doing their utmost to sneak in religion through the back door. Mergers of faith and non-faith schools are one way to do it; another way is to exploit the academy and free school system.
As the NSS reported in 2015, academies and free schools can be designated as 'religious ethos' without adopting a formal 'religious character', blurring the line between what is and what is not a religious school. There are even academies that clearly operate under a faith ethos, but are not registered as such with the Department for Education. The NSS investigation into Oasis Academies revealed the extent of the problem. Although less than a quarter of Oasis Academies are registered as having a religious character or ethos, every single one of them says that their ethos is "inspired by the life, message and example of Jesus Christ" and that they are "schools of religious character" on their websites.
Every school that has been converted into an Oasis Academy was previously non-religious. That's approximately 40 new faith schools which have sprung up to effectively replace secular schools within the last decade. And thanks to the Christian nature of these schools being omitted from DfE data, they have emerged with little notice.
But with the UK becoming more irreligious and religiously diverse, how long can the church's sneaky bully-boy tactics prevail? The public is rightly getting tired of being told what to do by religious institutions, and fed up with the encroachment of religion into their family lives. Thanks to rapidly-improving social media and other internet technology, parents are finding it easier than ever before to communicate with each other and organise themselves to resist religion. And in the long run, religious institutions would be foolish to ignore their increasingly louder, bolder voices. For if anyone knows what happens at the end of the story of David and Goliath, it's the Church.
Megan Manson is a campaigns officer at the National Secular Society, where this opinion piece was first posted.
Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:34
Faith Schoolers Anonymous: It may sound like a 'turkey voting for Christmas' when I write as the Vicar of 6 Church of England parishes, and as the ex-officio governor of 3 church primary schools, to say that I believe that the government is approaching the issue of faith schools from the wrong end.