Secularists told: stop fearing faith schools

If secularist opponents of faith schools think religion is “a busted flush” they should stop being afraid of its influence, writes the editor of the Times Educational Supplement (TES).

Instead of fearing faith schools, secular liberals who believe in diversity should support parents’ “right to educate their children in an ethos of their choosing”, says Gerard Kelly in his editorial.

“One cannot celebrate diversity by restricting choice”, he argues.

Mr Kelly’s article follows a series of attacks on faith schools by secular groups and think-tanks who say they undermine social cohesion.

The British Humanist Association earlier this month called for the Government’s new Equality Bill to strip faith schools of their right to choose some staff and pupils who share their religion.

But Mr Kelly points out that most faith schools offer their communities “excellent teaching and support”.

“To blame them for the actions of sectarian fanatics, as some critics do, is unfair and glib”, he adds.

“Are those outrages the result of over-exposure to church fetes and nativity plays or do they have their roots in something more fundamental – poverty, say?”

Secular liberals who oppose faith schools are “inconsistent”, he continues.

“Most people would accept that parents have a right to educate their children in an ethos of their choosing, however wrong it may seem to others, as long as the law is observed.

“That is the nature of a tolerant, democratic society.”

Earlier this month the Revd Janina Ainsworth, Chief Education Officer for the Church of England, defended faith schools’ right to maintain their ethos by choosing some staff and pupils who share their religion.

“Their proposals to strip faith schools of the right to use any faith-based admissions criteria would dilute a key ingredient that can help to make these schools distinctive, popular and successful”, she argued.

“The thousands of staff, governors and parents involved in creating inclusive, distinctively Christian learning environments in voluntary-aided church schools will say with one voice that their motivation is to provide the best possible place for children to learn and develop, spiritually, socially and academically.”

Commenting on the issue last year, Revd Ainsworth said: “Some seem to believe that the Christian ethos, which is so valued by parents, is like a sort of magic dust that is sprinkled on church schools simply by association.

“But it is, in fact, achieved through the hard work of staff and governors in building a learning community that is underpinned with Christian values.”

Related Resources