Several prominent commentators have spoken out in support of faith schools, after a commission called for them to be curtailed in a report this week.
The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, headed by Baroness Butler-Sloss, has come under fire for a range of proposals including ending religious selection for faith schools, scrapping Christian assemblies and diluting religious education.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, columnist Allison Pearson said that children need to understand the roots of our society.
“If you shut down faith schools, most of which are CofE or Catholic, you not only deny children one of the best free educations in the country, you block up the well of Christian teaching for good”, she said.
Pearson criticised the outlook of the report: “There appears to be some kind of fuzzy hope that, with Christianity marginalised, we will create a more harmonious society. Experience elsewhere suggests exactly the opposite.”
We must dispel the myth that these schools are hotbeds of intolerance, producing students incapable of interacting with wider society.Rabbi Meyer
Writing in The Times, Executive Director of Partnerships for Jewish Schools, Rabbi David Meyer, and the Bishop of Ely the Right Revd Stephen Conway both referred to the huge demand for faith schools among parents in the UK.
Rabbi Meyer pointed out that: “A third of our adult population have graduated from faith schools and are integral in developing one of the most tolerant and caring societies in the world.”
He said: “We must dispel the myth that these schools are hotbeds of intolerance, producing students incapable of interacting with wider society.”
And Bishop Conway noted that the Commission’s recommendations are often “peddled out, but rarely by parents”.
“We have yet to find, as the report claims, that fewer parents want this kind of education”, he said.
The influential blogger known as Archbishop Cranmer accused the Commission of calling for a “multifaith mish-mash”, but commented that the report has “no more credibility than a political manifesto, and no more constitutional authority than a copy of the Beano”.
The Church of England said the Commission is embracing “the fiction that the state should adopt some kind of neutral position in order to accommodate (and, presumably, manage) the diversity of religions and beliefs within society”.
Religion in public life
The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life was set up by the Woolf Institute, which looks at the relations between Christians, Muslims and Jews. Its patrons include the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
Members of the Commission were drawn from the British Humanist Association, major UK religions, academia, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.