Faith Schools: a triumph of British values

In the wake of the Trojan Horse investigations in Birmingham, there has been a wider polarization of opinion about so-called faith schools, and the teaching of religion in the state sector, as the Observer reported:

The survey by Opinium shows that 58% of voters now believe faith schools, which can give priority to applications from pupils of their faith and are free to teach only about their own religion, should not be funded by the state or should be abolished.

Of those with concerns, 70% said the taxpayer should not be funding the promotion of religion in schools, 60% said such schools promoted division and segregation, and 41% said they were contrary to the promotion of a multicultural society. Fewer than one in three (30%) said they had no objections to faith schools being funded by the state.

In law, there is no such thing as a “faith school”, there are, however, schools with a religious character. The report by the Christian think tank, Theos, assessing the evidence about the performance of schools with religious character nevertheless regards use of the term ‘faith schools’ as useful: reflecting the language of the public debate, where the term simply refers to a state-maintained school within England which teaches the wider, general curriculum, but which is affiliated to a particular religious denomination or organisation.

Theos’s report reveals that:

Faith schools constitute about a third of all state-maintained or non-fee paying schools in England. Over 99% of these schools are Christian, but some are Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, or Hindu. State-maintained schools may be community schools, voluntary aided schools, voluntary controlled schools, foundation schools, academies or free schools.

It is of course revealing that the Birmingham schools at the centre of the Trojan Horse controversy are not actually faith schools, which highlights the degree to which discussion of faith schools becomes a proxy argument about the role of religion in the public sphere. It is worth reminding ourselves, that while this may not always be observed, all state-maintained schools are legislatively required to have a daily act of collective worship. Even in schools without a religious character, this collective worship is not neutral, but must (by law) be “wholly, or mainly of a broadly Christian nature”.

Given the scale of involvement of religious institutions in the English education system, the issues are surprisingly poorly understood, not only in the public debates, but central assumptions by protagonists on both sides of the debate have been sparsely researched.

The English education system is diverse and complicated and there is considerable diversity of school funding and governance models. In 2012 about 95% of faith schools were either voluntary aided or controlled; about 4 per cent were academies or free schools; and less than one per cent were foundation schools. 98% of faith schools are Roman Catholic or Anglican, and before 1997 faith schools were almost all either from these mainstream Christian denominations, or Jewish. The Blair government extended the arrangements to other faiths.

36% of faith schools are voluntary controlled (VC) , which means that the primary responsibility for the school’s admissions and staff lies with the local authority. 59% of faith schools are voluntary aided (VA), meaning that the school has greater autonomy in these areas, in particular permitting faith based selection where the school is oversubscribed, and permitting a faith based employment criterion for 20% of teachers.

Both voluntary aided (VA) and voluntary controlled (VC) schools must follow the National Curriculum. However, VA schools may teach Religious Education in accordance with their particular ‘trust deed’, or religious affiliation, unless parents request otherwise. All Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim schools are VA (with the exception of one Catholic foundation school) whilst Church of England and Methodist schools are a mixture of VA and VC.

The role of religious authorities in English schools is historical, as the Church of England was the main provider of public education prior to 1870, when it maintained 17000 schools (In 2012 there were 6,750 schools out of a total of 19,783 state schools in England). The 1870 education reforms introduced a parallel system of state maintained non-religious schools; and the 1944 Education Act codified the dual system that we have today.

There are two important points to grasp here, firstly that the provision of education by the Church of England has always been borne out of the church’s sense of social responsibility and commitment to enriching the life of the community, rather than proselytizing.

According to the Church School of the Future Review (Church of England Archbishops Council Education Division, 2012), education has as its core the dual purpose of ‘witness’ and ‘service’, which finds expression in:

a sense of obligation to share an enduring narrative, a set of values and ways of behaving that stem from and express the Christian foundation of the school, thereby sharing the faith with all members of the school community [and an] engagement with and service to society: the provision of education as a common good, open to all and of benefit to all.

The Observer quotes the Rev Jan Ainsworth, the church’s chief education officer, saying:

Church schools continue to be hugely popular with parents, who as taxpayers are part of the public funding for education. The church itself puts a considerable amount of time and money into its schools, maintaining the land and buildings, providing 22,000 governors and a diocesan umbrella structure which with the demise of the local authority is sometimes the only support left to schools. Church schools are not divisive but provide an inclusive education, open to pupils of all faiths and none.

The expansion of Catholic and Jewish schools from 1870 onwards played a complementary but different role, in providing education for immigrant communities settling in what was then a predominantly Anglican society, and where the a high proportion of public education was provided by the Anglican Church. Their role has mediated the experience of migrant populations, allowing them to preserve religious and cultural heritage, and providing a successful model of choice where religious communities have been able to express difference on the basis of equality.

Catholic Schools in particular are more likely to be ethnically and culturally diverse than the surrounding community, and it is worth quoting the Stonewall report, The experiences of gay young people in Britain’s young people in Britain’s schools in 2012 (Stonewall, 2012), that there is no higher incidence of homophobia in faith schools than in non-religious state-maintained schools.

While the evidence is inconclusive, and points to the higher academic performance of faith schools as being largely based upon their admissions policy, there is also a persuasive suggestion that faith schools foster better results based upon a cohesive sense of community, and an ethos where pupils identify strongly with their school, and where parents are more involved. Interestingly, the experience is that special needs children in Church of England primary schools may perform better than in non-religious state maintained schools.

Objections to faith schools are often founded upon opposition to religion playing a role in public life; which involves an implicit assumption that the state has an obligation to provide, or indeed has the capability to provide, a value neutral context where religious ideas are neither promoted nor undermined. Sadly, some of those opposed to Faith Schools seem to have a patronising and dismissive view that religious people are backward. For example the letter in last Sunday’s observer from someone called Phillip Wood:

Judaism, Christianity and Islam arose out of the same pre-Enlightenment, misogynist “values-swamp” from within archaic pastoral cultures. The logic of school secularisation also means replacing RE with cultural anthropology so that children are exposed to a more critical awareness of other cultures and world-views. As a retired social sciences teacher, I have latterly covered many RE classes in academies

It is somewhat scary that someone with so little respect for religious views has taught RE lessons, and this illustrates why many parents may prefer the religious education of their children to be more sympathetic to their own belief systems.

There are a number of problems with assuming that a secular education system can be neutral, not least that there is extreme diversity in views of non-religious people, and neither secularism nor atheism can be assumed themselves to be value neutral. But equally, religion is not, and cannot typically be an affair of individual conscience.

Whether or not we accept that religious precepts are the result of Revelation, whether they only codify social experiences and culturally accepted mores, or whether they are the result of contested interpretations of Revelation in specific cultural and historical contexts; the great religious faiths have arisen in collective social contexts, and therefore created communities of shared experience, which provide expectations of how individuals should interact in society; and religious communities are as entitled as anyone else in a democratic society to promote their own vision of the common good.

The relative success of embracing multi-culturalism in England, which over the last 150 years in particular has seen successive waves of immigration bringing in diverse religious and social heritages, has been founded upon choice and diversity. The historical experience of Catholics and Jews in England is that faith schools have allowed them to create bridges into mainstream society, without forced assimilation.

Indeed, there is a tradition within mainstream British labourism and social democracy of regarding the retreat of religiously inspired collective values as a defeat. For example, RH Tawney was sufficienty central to the Labour Party’s thinking that he drafted the Labour Party’s political programme adopted by conference in 1928: “Labour and Nation”

Tawney’s belief was that society requires a shared common moral framework, which functionally protects the collective interests of society. Tawney was by profession an academic historian, a specialist in the late mediaeval period, and his account of the transition to capitalism stresses the role of the Church in European feudal society, with provided the scholastic doctrine of organicism. This valued different social functions contributing to the mutual benefit of an organic whole. The Church opposed avarice and usury, and stressed collective duties rather then individual rights.

For Tawney the low level tolerance of usury by the Church when it was a peripheral economic activity meant they were unprepared to ideologically adapt to the later development of Capital as a driving economic force; and the Protestant rebellions against the materialism and self-interest of the Roman church, themselves opened the door to individualism, and the retreat of the church from the political sphere into the private realm. For Tawney this removed the main mechanism in mediaeval society for maintaining a philosophy of shared social purpose, and defining the duties that individuals owed to society.

Tawney rejected the teleological implications of both Marxism and Whig liberalism which see the triumph of the capitalist class as unambiguous progress: the removal of the legal inequalities of feudalism allowed advance towards greater political freedom, but at the expense of allowing the rich to use their economic power to impose their will upon society; and the ideological triumph of individualism and a philosophy of rights undermined concepts of duties towards the common good.

Around a hundred years ago, the two Austrian socialists, Karl Renner and Otto Bauer, also challenged liberal theories of the relationship between state and citizen. Renner argued a powerful critique of contemporary theories of sovereignty based upon individual rights. He drew on the experience of the religious wars in early Modern Europe, where following the treaty of Augsburg German states dictated the religious affiliation of their subjects, leading to countless wars. According to Renner, the problem was solved when coexistence of competing religions, and their collective obligations, became accepted within states.

Bauer elaborated on this, arguing that there was a weakness of constitutional systems arising from the Enlightenment both through its autocratic and democratic manifestations, because increased centralization of the state disconnected individual citizens from the autonomous collective institutions that had existed in the pre-modern period, this created what Bauer described as “centralist-atomist” model, where isolated individuals were confronted by centralized totalistic states, and where liberal concepts of the relationship between citizens and the state represented a continuity not a rupture from the centralizing tendency of the absolutist Bourbon, or Hapsburg states.

As Heinz Fisher, the current President of the Austria (Social Democrat), has argued:

“In the liberal nation-state the cultural practice of the dominant nation (the official ethnicity of the state) is disguised by a procedural practice that claims neutrality but is derived from the cultural experiences of the dominant national community. Furthermore, a liberal view of culture is by definition grounded in liberal theory and cannot avoid seeing every culture from a liberal angle. This creates in most cases serious distortions. That is why in liberal democracies multiculturalism is always limited by the hegemony of the dominant nation, and why liberal theories find it very difficult to construct a multiethnic and multicultural state out of the practice of liberal democracy. As Parekh perceptively argued in another context, the liberal response to the cultural pluralism of nation-states does little more than carve out a precarious area of diversity on the margin of a predominantly assimilationist structure. Atomist states, however much consideration they might show for individual democratic rights and however much consideration they might show for individual democratic rights are by definition adverse to recognizing intermediate and constitutionally enshrined entities.

As I have argued myself in another context:

Could it be that the … pragmatic but inconsistent anomalies of the British constitution, while admittedly reflecting their pre-modern, and indeed pre-enlightenment origins, are also potentially post-modern? The English, or is it the British, like to imagine ourselves both unique and particular, but also exemplary. In fact the complex constitutional and social mix of Britain has many features that are not unique. Other states are also multi-national, other states also balance conflicting identities and loyalties; and we don’t need to be exemplary, we only need to find a solution that works for us.
While the homogenous French state, with its modernist constitution, struggles with shared loyalties and identities, Britain – with or without Scotland – has been more at ease with the compromises necessary for multi-culturalism. The British tradition of constitutionalism and pragmatism is well suited to the modern democratic world, even to the extent that Britain combines both what is effectively republican government and concepts of citizenship with a show-biz monarchy, a balancing act that only works as long as you don’t think about it.

… The contested, multi-polar nature of English and British identity, its many flavours and incongruities, are well suited to the contemporary world, the post-imperial world of immigration, religious and cultural differences, and complex interactions.

Faith schools are a distinctively English arrangement that allow communities and individuals to express difference in a context of equality of dignity and regard. They have been a broadly successful social experiment that has both allowed expression of identities, and through the offering of choice have also contextualized that difference in a tolerant and pragmatically accommodating tendency towards the liberal social norms of broader society.
It would be a tragic paradox if a moral panic about a perceived threat to tolerant British values caused us to undermine such a successful expression of British pragmatism.

38 comments on “Faith Schools: a triumph of British values

  1. Thanks for that detailed information Andy. State education here has always been a minefield to find your way around as the idea of universal comprehensive schools for all has never been properly implemented, an example that there was never any compulsion for local authorities to abolish grammar schools. It now more complicated than its ever been. Have to get my head around this again due to grandson having to start school next year.

  2. red snapper: there was never any compulsion for local authorities to abolish grammar schools.

    Interestingly, the secretary of state for education who abolished the most selective schools, and who create the most new comprehensives was the Rt Hon Margaret Thatcher

  3. P Spence on said:

    You are far too accommodating.

    Faith schools together with the obscenity of private schools enable the middle class to game the system at the expense of working class children.

    And misogyny underpins religion and religious education of children, and on that ground alone is intolerable.

    Socialists need to attack religion as part of the apparatus of class and gender oppression. We shouldn’t be giving religion a free ride: on the contrary, we should do whatever we can to diminish its power and influence; let’s start with education.

    We are an overwhelmingly secular society and it is hypocritical to support faith schools when the vast majority of families that send children to those schools obviously do not observe any religious worship or practice outside of the school gates. Their motives are secular not religious: to benefit from the perceived superior education and selected social intake.

  4. P Spence: And misogyny underpins religion and religious education of children, and on that ground alone is intolerable.

    And in that one sentance you reveal so much ill-informed prejudice that you comp letely prove the case for faith schools.

    P Spence: Socialists need to attack religion as part of the apparatus of class and gender oppression.

    Presumably, religious people like James Connoly, John Brown, Dr Martin Luther King and Archbishop Tutu have been, in your view, part of this oppressive apparatus?

    P Spence: We are an overwhelmingly secular society

    The head of state is also head of the church, Bishops sit in the legislature, one third of state funded schools are religiously affiiated, and the state recognises religious marriage. Does that sound overwhelmingly secular?

    Incidently, around one million people are regular church goers, when you say “We are an overwhelmingly secular society”, what you mean is that you don’t notice those bits of society which are not

  5. jack on said:

    Andy Newman: The head of state is also head of the church, Bishops sit in the legislature, one third of state funded schools are religiously affiiated, and the state recognises religious marriage. Does that sound overwhelmingly secular?

    Incidently, around one million people are regular church goers, when you say “We are an overwhelmingly secular society”, what you mean is that you don’t notice those bits of society which are not

    On the other hand, a recent YouGov poll found that 81% of respondents agreed with the statement “religiouss practice is a private matter and should be separated from the political and economic life of the country.” A majority said that they did not identify with any religion at all, confirming a steady drop in religious affiliation over the past fifty years. Perhaps you’re the one not very good at noticing things?

  6. jack: a recent YouGov poll found that 81% of respondents agreed with the statement “religiouss practice is a private matter and should be separated from the political and economic life of the country.”

    It is of course a somewhat loaded question.

    jack: A majority said that they did not identify with any religion at all, confirming a steady drop in religious affiliation over the past fifty years.

    So you are arguing an explicitly majoritarian position, that the rights of minorities can be supressed if a majority agrees to it.

    Where I find the position of the “secularist” left very uncomfortable is that the majority of the religiously observant are either immigrants, or from overseas heritage. So in the name of your adolescent and self important anti-religious posteruring you are happy to side with the racists and the UKippers.

  7. Vanya on said:

    #7 I see where you’re coming from and agree to an extent, but it could also be pointed out that many of these right wing characters (particularly Britain First and EDL) bang on about Britain being a “Christian country”. As I’ve argued, this is helped by the fact that in law, the state at least is Christian, and I don’t think we want to give preference to the sensibilities of Nigerian Anglicans over those of Nigerian Muslims (for example) do we?

  8. Vanya: As I’ve argued, this is helped by the fact that in law, the state at least is Christian, and I don’t think we want to give preference to the sensibilities of Nigerian Anglicans over those of Nigerian Muslims (for example) do we?

    Indeed, and it is intresting for example that Anglican Bishops in the House of Lords have seen their responsiblity in latter years as being more ecumenical, rather than specifically Anglican.

    Some constitutional adjustment may well be advisable, in a similar way that other faiths have been able to run faith schools in recent years

  9. Vanya on said:

    #9 The key consitutional arangement we need is the separation of church and state.

  10. Vanya: The key consitutional arangement we need is the separation of church and state.

    I am suprised that you think that is THE KEY constitutional issue for you

  11. Sam64 on said:

    Sorry to but in with something so frivolous but I feel tribute should be paid on the site to the late Rick Mayall whose funeral it is today. I have a feeling that he supported UKIP in later years, but The Young Ones was immensely popular with people on the left in the 80s – not just the left, most certainly them. The following clip contains the line ‘Daddy bought me the Socialist Workers Party!’ which, to be fair, SWP members found pretty funny from what I remember. I’d forgotten Alexi Sayle on the revolutionary biscuit at the beginning.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNHia4_HDyc

  12. jim mclean on said:

    There is a direct correlation between Faith Schools and property hotspots, to such an extent people are buying second homes so as to fall within the correct catchment area. Private schools in all but name in many cases and the well educated professionals who make up the School Council and Board of Governors basically have the power, contacts and will to ensure LA and state funds are allocated in a manner more beneficial to their school than other less well represented ones.

  13. Andy
    You argue that “While the evidence is inconclusive, and points to the higher academic performance of faith schools as being largely based upon their admissions policy, there is also a persuasive suggestion that faith schools foster better results based upon a cohesive sense of community, and an ethos where pupils identify strongly with their school, and where parents are more involved. Interestingly, the experience is that special needs children in Church of England primary schools may perform better than in non-religious state maintained schools.”

    The first part is undoubtedly correct: The Sutton Trust report, Parent Power reports that overall 6% of parents admitted attending church services when they didn’t previously so that their child could secure admission to a church school. Such self-proclaimed hypocrisy rises to 10% of upper middle class parents surveyed.

    That invaluable monitor of middle class mores, the Daily Telegraph, reports that ‘rising numbers of children are being given late baptisms amid a scramble for places at the most popular Roman Catholic schools.’

    The paper adds that at the same time fewer ‘cradle baptisms’ of children under one are taking place in both Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.

    Work by the Fair Admissions Campaign has highlighted how socially selective faith schools are.
    Church of England schools admit 10% fewer children eligible for free school meals; Roman Catholic schools 24% fewer; Jewish schools 61% fewer; and Muslim schools 25% fewer.”

    This impressive piece of research, backed by a revealing interactive map, shows just which schools are the most socially selective. http://fairadmissions.org.uk/map/

    Most striking are the facts revealed by a comparison – against the local norm – of the schools that differed most measured by the number of children of free school meals and by EAL numbers.

    Only 16% of schools select by religion but they are vastly overrepresented in the 100 worst offenders on free school meal eligibility and English as an additional language. They make up 46 of the worst 100 schools on FSM eligibility and 50 of the worst 100 on EAL. If grammar schools, University Technical Colleges and Studio schools are excluded, religiously selective schools account for 73 of the worst 100 on FSM eligibility and 59 of the worst 100 on EAL.

    The campaign research found that “schools with no religious character typically admit 11% more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected.”

  14. P Spence on said:

    Thanks Nick for doing this spade work.

    In any drive towards socialism control of education is vital: religions have always understood that to shape society you must influence the young. You only have reflect on your on school experience for two seconds to realize the uninhibited rubbish we were taught about God, the British Empire, and deference to authority. It worked a treat and still does.

    The brightest people I met at school were working class boys who new the system was designed to keep them down and rejected its authority; I still recall how shocked I was that they talked back at the teachers.

    Church schools by definition form the most conservative part of education and when I hear good socialists pandering to them something is terribly wrong. The present system suits the ruling class above all; and aims to socially control the working class. Henry VIII ought to have closed church schools not the monasteries; we would be in less of a mess now.

  15. Andy Newman: So in the name of your adolescent and self important anti-religious posteruring you are happy to side with the racists and the UKippers.

    Don’t be a pillock. The ‘racists and Ukippers’, as someone has already pointed out, tend to bang on about Britain being a Christian country.

    Of course religious communities (although in itself a problematic concept, given that a ‘community’ often in reality encompasses a number of important internal divisions) are “as entitled as anyone else in a democratic society to promote their own vision of the common good.” In that, i see no reason why Christianity should be privileged above any other. The point here, however, is about segregation. The context for state-funded ‘faith schools’ is glossed over in your article, but it can’t be ignored that it is about selection and segregation. As Nick Wright points out, religious schools tend to select on the basis not of ‘faith’ but social class. To put it bluntly, you can have all the ‘faith’ you like, but if you are from a deprived social background, have educational special needs etc, you’re less likely to find yourself in a ‘faith’ school.
    New Labour encouraged this assault on the comprehensive system which, although far from perfect, was based in comparison to what had existed before on more egalitarian principles. That assault has of course been stepped up by Grove and his cronies. I doubt they’re driven by admiration of ‘faith’, unless that’s faith in neoliberal free market dogmas.

  16. Nick Wright: Work by the Fair Admissions Campaign has highlighted how socially selective faith schools are.
    Church of England schools admit 10% fewer children eligible for free school meals; Roman Catholic schools 24% fewer; Jewish schools 61% fewer; and Muslim schools 25% fewer.”
    This impressive piece of research, backed by a revealing interactive map, shows just which schools are the most socially selective. http://fairadmissions.org.uk/map/
    Most striking are the facts revealed by a comparison – against the local norm – of the schools that differed most measured by the number of children of free school meals and by EAL numbers.

    I am a bit disappointed by you approach here, as you totally side step the issues I have raised about multiculturalism

    contrast to your position the Catholic Education Service highlights the role of faith schools in encouraging participation of minority communities, irrespective of their faith or denomination, within mainstream society. [‘Ethnicity, identity and achievement in Catholic schools: supporting minority ethnic pupils in Catholic Secondary Schools’, Catholic Education Service (2003),]

    You might say “they would say that wouldn’t they” but the Runnymede trust agrees that “inequalities and the failure to tackle religious discrimination in non-faith schooling are significant drivers for faith school attendance”.
    [Rob Berkeley, Right to Divide?: Faith Schools and Community Cohesion (Runnymede, 2008), http://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/publications/pdfs/RightToDivide-2008.pdf ]

    The Theos report I quote in the main article says that a “limited study exploring data from one academic year only appears to reinforce these choices. It found that students from minority ethnic communities and disadvantaged backgrounds in Catholic schools appear to be achieving “higher scores in National Curriculum tests and in the various measures of examination attainment favoured by government for comparing institutional performance” than their counterparts in non-faith schools.”

    With regard to your rather reductionist arguments about social selection ignores, for example, figures from the DfE which show that 18.6% of pupils at Catholic primary schools live in the 10% most deprived areas of England, compared with only 14.3% of primary school pupils nationally. Some 17% of pupils at Catholic schools lived in the 10% most deprived areas compared to 12% of pupils nationally.

    The reason that you argument is reductionist, is that the question you are referring to is the rather more complex one that schools which control their own selection, whether they are religious or non-religious, all exhibit “social sorting”

    socio-economic sorting is inevitably bound to systemic issues like ‘location disadvantage’ for example where house price premiums in residential areas linked to the catchment areas of highperforming state schools serve to exclude many middle- and low-income households. You are focusing on the mechanism whereby religious schools exhibit “social sorting” whereas the real issue is the leverage of greater parental wealth, as well as social and cultural capital.

    A process of residualisation also occurs, as the evidence shows that social class, and particularly the level of education acheived by the parents themselves, is a strong indicator of whether those parents will seek to consolidate transmission of their culturalcapital through manipulating the school admissions system; whereas working class exapl and less professionally qualified parents put greater value of school proximity and friendship networks. However, school admissions policies don’t create social division, they reflect it; and if there were more schools with control of their admissions policy that would not increase the number of middle class parents, which is why the Gove fallacy that parental choice leads to higher standards is wrong.

    Yours is a classic example of the debate about faith schools becomming a proxy for a different argument.

  17. P Spence: Church schools by definition form the most conservative part of education

    “they come over ‘ere … ”

    P Spence: Henry VIII ought to have closed church schools not the monasteries; we would be in less of a mess now.

    A statement of shocking ignorance given that in the time of Henry VIII there were almost no public schools (only private tutors), the establishment of schools for poorer children based upon charitable endowments started with Henry’s son Edward VI. However, before 1870 nealy ALL schools in England were run by the church. So your position is that there should have been no schools!

  18. P Spence: You only have reflect on your on school experience for two seconds to realize the uninhibited rubbish we were taught about God

    So let us be clear, you are making an explict argument here that your own preferred view of religion is so self-evidently correct that it should be imposed on the children of others who don’t share that view. This is exactly the point that Heinz Fischer chalenges about liberal assumptions which lead to an essentially assimilationist culture, unwliing to accord equality of respect to difference.

    jack: The ‘racists and Ukippers’, as someone has already pointed out, tend to bang on about Britain being a Christian country.

    Well maybe, but the largest communities of immigrant heritage represented by faith schools are Cathlics, and Britain is not a Catholic country. But more importantly, the context of the current debate is the demonisation of Islam, where “faith schools” are agains standing in as a proxy argument for many for the attempt to marginalise the influence of islam, which I assume you would agree with as you see it as another example of “uninhibited rubbish we were taught about God,… and deference to authority.”

  19. jim mclean: There is a direct correlation between Faith Schools and property hotspots, to such an extentchanism people are buying second homes so as to fall within the correct catchment area.

    Surely this is exactly what happens with popular and high acheiving non-faith schools as well.

    However, when a faith school becomes over-subscribed, that triggers the melchanism where they are then allowed to select on basis of religious affiliation. So whereas non-faith community schools that effectively become targetted by the middle classes through leveraging location advantage have no corrective mechanism, faith schools do have an effective opportunity to ensure attendence from children from poorer backgrounds.

  20. jock mctrousers on said:

    P Spence: Church schools by definition form the most conservative part of education and when I hear good socialists pandering to them something is terribly wrong.

    That was my first instinctive reaction. I remember the late 50s/early 60s when saying you don’t believe in God was still daring rather than commonplace (except for USA presidents of course, which is a big point), and feel sad to think that such a repressive communal culture could be on the way back ( well, everything else bad is coming back).

    But Andy’s piece is very interesting, and he makes some undeniable points – the obvious one that currently attacks on ‘faith schools’ are a thinly veiled cover for attacks on Muslims, and the less immediately obvious one that the problem with the ‘postcode selection’ process for faith schools is about financial privilege, not faith – good stuff, and true.

    But missing from the picture completely is the BIG question (which the National Secular Society, to their credit, NEVER forget – and I have big reservations about them and their Harry’s Place tendencies): Why should ‘faith’ get this special treatment at all? Which leads me to:

    Andy Newman: exactly the point that Heinz Fischer chalenges about liberal assumptions which lead to an essentially assimilationist culture, unwliing to accord equality of respect to difference.

    Is there something WRONG with an essentially assimilationist culture? Is socialism not about communal arrangements, agreed core values… ‘Values’ implies discrimination. Can we no longer say for instance that enforced female genital mutilation is BAD, not just different! Seemingly not, because as we all know there hasn’t been a single prosecution for any of the suspected thousands of incidences of this in the Uk, the commonplace explanation being that ‘authorities’ are reluctant to come down on what is seen as part of Somali culture!

    Socialist support the widest possible personal freedoms compatible with a commonly, democratically agreed good – the rest is bullshit, usually covering up for some kind of sell-out.

  21. jack ford on said:

    Andy Newman,

    Richard Dawkins would say that the beliefs of parents do not entitle them to brainwash their children. There is no such thing as a Catholic child or a Muslim child only the child of Catholic or Muslim parents.

    The Church of the Latter Day Atheists would go on to say that children should not be taught supernatural twaddle but educated on the basis of reason and science.

  22. Marko on said:

    “And misogyny underpins religion and religious education of children, and on that ground alone is intolerable.”

    But so does secular society, secular society is not year zero but a product of history. Maybe schools can help by ensuring boys and girls wear exactly the same uniforms.
    But even then this isn’t just a political question but one of evolution and human nature.

    As for the article it, while informative and thankfully sober, it does remind me a little of Stalin’s thesis on the nation state, which had its merits!

  23. Marko: it does remind me a little of Stalin’s thesis on the nation state

    au contraire. I specifically refer to the theses on nationality and social democracy from bauer and Renner.

    It was to oppose this Austrian position that Stalin specifically wrote his own book on the national question, in defence of what was the then Kautskyist orthodoxy. It is also worth pointing out that the Kautsky/Lenin/Stalin position, despite the iconoclastic marxist form, was by the contemporary standards of its day, in content consistent with mainstream liberal opinion, as exemplified by Woodrow Wilson.

  24. jock mctrousers: Is there something WRONG with an essentially assimilationist culture? Is socialism not about communal arrangements, agreed core values… ‘Values’ implies discrimination. Can we no longer say for instance that enforced female genital mutilation is BAD, not just different! Seemingly not, because as we all know there hasn’t been a single prosecution for any of the suspected thousands of incidences of this in the Uk, the commonplace explanation being that ‘authorities’ are reluctant to come down on what is seen as part of Somali culture!

    This is a good point, and one that requires a consistent theory of multi-culturalism to deal with it.

    Toleration of a practice sanctioned by, example, for Somali culture, but both abhorent and unlawful in Britain is a breakdown of multi-culturalism, because the communities who practice FGM need to obey the law, and accomodate to the views of other cutlures that they are interacting with.

    The principle needs to be that multi-culturalism is empowering by allowing individuals choice, so if adult Somali women wish this done to themselves, I don’t have a problem with it.

    In contrast with education, children educated in faith schools are still surrounded by the dominant culture and exposed to choice and difference; children who have bits chopped off have no choice.

  25. jack on said:

    Andy Newman: But more importantly, the context of the current debate is the demonisation of Islam, where “faith schools” are agains standing in as a proxy argument for many for the attempt to marginalise the influence of islam, which I assume you would agree with as you see it as another example of “uninhibited rubbish we were taught about God,… and deference to authority.”

    Well, yes that’s true enough and that racism needs to be opposed. I see the argument about equality under the existing law, so if Christians can set up ‘faith’ schools, then to oppose Muslims having that right at the very least opens the door to racist arguments. However, it seems a big leap to go from that position to one of embracing in principle the idea of faith schools. Surely it doesn’t take too much imagination to be able to envisage and fight for a different kind of system, one that’s genuinely comprehensive, where kids from all backgrounds learn together and where the ability to engage critically with the world is encouraged, rather than adherence to one ‘faith.’ The concept of a ‘faith school’ is an oxymoron, given that education should always be about doubt, inquiry, curiosity and rebellion. By the way, when I was at primary school way back in the ’70s I suppose I was taught a degree of ‘uninhibited rubbish’ about God, although that quote wasn’t from me. In secondary school, I don’t recall any religious worship, hymn singing etc being forced on us. In that regard, I consider myself lucky.

  26. jack: The concept of a ‘faith school’ is an oxymoron, given that education should always be about doubt, inquiry, curiosity and rebellion.

    There are no “fath schools” in English law. There are only state maintained schools “with a religious character”.

    A maintained school is deemed by the Department of Education to have a religious character if it fulfils one of the following criteria:

    At least one member of the governing body is appointed as a foundation governor to represent the interests of a religion or a religious denomination.

    If the school should close, the premises will be disposed of in accordance with the requirement of the trust which may be for the benefit of one or more religions or religious foundations.

    The foundation which owns the site has made it available on the condition that the school provides education in accordance with the tenets of the faith.

    jack: education should always be about doubt, inquiry, curiosity and rebellion

    You are mking an unfounded assumption based lack of self-critical reflection on your own biases.Religious people are also able to engage with doubt, inquiry, curiosity and rebellion. Indeed, one of the drivers towards faith schools is a background of lazy and complacent, unquestioning atheism is wider society, which contributes to children, especially from minority religious heritages, being bullied in non-faith schools.

    jack: Surely it doesn’t take too much imagination to be able to envisage and fight for a different kind of system, one that’s genuinely comprehensive, where kids from all backgrounds learn together and where the ability to engage critically with the world is encouraged, rather than adherence to one ‘faith.’

    Well, this assumes that the dominant and normative culture is value free and neutral. It certainly is not hard to beleive that a schooling system could exist where “where kids from all backgrounds learn together and where the ability to engage critically with the world is encouraged”, prior to 1870 that existed in England, where almost all schools were run by the Church of England. The reason that rightly changed was to accomodate the challenges from Jewish and Cathlic immigration.

    Faith schools are more consistent with multculturalism, than vanilla flavoured “secularism”, which enforces assimilation to the hegemonic culture

  27. Marko on said:

    “Surely it doesn’t take too much imagination to be able to envisage and fight for a different kind of system, one that’s genuinely comprehensive, where kids from all backgrounds learn together and where the ability to engage critically with the world is encouraged, rather than adherence to one ‘faith.’”

    Leaving aside objections about the Utopian notion of ‘genuinely comprehensive’:

    To have an education system that is ‘genuinely comprehensive’ you would need to eradicate ‘all backgrounds’. You cannot have a ‘genuinely comprehensive’ education while all backgrounds exist. A demand for a ‘genuinely comprehensive’ education is to demand the eradication of class society. Surely beyond the scope of this debate? As if tomorrow you could declare ‘genuinely comprehensive’ education is now in force! There is more to this than eradicating religion from education.

    What hasn’t been factored into this debate is the thoroughly racist nature of British society outside the school, which is the world that school prepares and conditions people for. A world where job opportunities for certain ethnic groups are reduced and where people of certain ethnic groups have to stick together in order to survive.

    Can it be any wonder that people of certain backgrounds want to rebel against the current education system, and tell ‘genuinely comprehensive’ to go to hell?

  28. jack ford on said:

    The underlying problem is that no statement concerning values can ever be separated from the perspective of the person who makes it. When I make a statement about values, that always amounts to “from my perspective, this is what the world looks like.”

  29. jack on said:

    Andy Newman: You are mking an unfounded assumption based lack of self-critical reflection on your own biases.Religious people are also able to engage with doubt, inquiry, curiosity and rebellion.

    Possibly I am. I often do. Of course ‘religious people’ are able to engage in doubt, inquiry, curiosity and rebellion. If that wasn’t the case, there would have been no social progress at all. The point I was making is that any education system worth the name should encourage those qualities. When I was at primary school, being given my own bible or cajoled in to singing All Things Bright and Beautiful I don’t think I was being encouraged to think critically. And my school was not particularly religious.

    Comprehensive education was an advance on what went before. Yes, to be truly comprehensive would involve eradicating inequality, abolishing private education and so on. What informs the sort of defence of segregation and selection that’s on display here is complete despair that anything better can exist.

  30. lone nut on said:

    jack,

    “And my school was not particularly religious”. Your experience there is not of particularly strong evidential value in relation to what goes on in religious schools then, is it? I don’t suppose you were being particularly encouraged to think critically when you were given a logarithms table or told to go on a cross country run either – sadly, relatively little of the educational experience resembles a scene from Dead Poets Society or Mona Lisa Smile.

  31. Andy Newman,
    Andy,
    Our confessional education system was developed to accommodate the presence of a substantial Roman catholic community, highly localised for both English catholics and for Irish immigrants, in a system where the 1870 Education Act began the integration of largely Anglican schools into a national system. In the political conditions of the time – colonial tribute and a deep structuring of the working class, the aftermath of the defeat of Chartist and Republican trends, the massive bourgeois project to popularise the royal family – it was inevitable that schools should be grounded in an Anglican ethos. Hence the Christian act of worship with which our schools are legally obliged to start each day.

    Trying remould this mechanism to accommodate a much smaller Jewish interest was easy enough but trying to accommodate a highly complex modern population shaped by an existing imperialist role, a deeply entrenched colonial history and migration patterns shaped by this and by membership of the EU is an entirely different project.

    The protection and enhancement of distinctive cultural identities and languages – if this is to be combined with a harmonious integration into the dominant society – cannot proceed on the basis of an equal treatment for all these groups.

    A comprehensive education system built on secular lines is the only framework where an equity of treatment can be accommodated unless we go further down the road proposed by Michael Gove, towards an education system even more highly fragmented on confessional lines, shot through with commercial imperatives arising from the Academies programme, skewed by highly individualistic so-called ‘free school’ and detached from any local democratic influence.

    Of course many Catholic schools serve working class communities well. Of course some Roman Catholic schools, because of their alignment to some migrant communities, play an important role in encouraging participation. But facts are facts, on admissions, Roman Catholic schools admit 24% fewer kids on free school meals.

    The Anglican Church has responded to the publication of the Fair Admissions Campaign findings with the assertion that the latest national data, “published in the Department of Education’s 2013 School Census, shows that 15% of pupils at CofE Secondary pupils are eligible for Free School Meals and that his is the same as the average for non CofE schools.

    Its chief education officer, the Rev Jan Ainsworth, dismissed the findings as a ‘wilful misrepresentation… We do not recognise the picture of church schools the survey paints. We are proud of the way in which our schools enable children from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed.’

    The Campaign argues that while the Census shows Church secondaries admit 14% of pupils eligible for free school meals such a comparison between the national average for CofE secondaries and for other schools is overly simplistic as it does not take account of the fact that different denominations of secondaries are in different areas – with Church secondaries more likely to be in cities where the rates of eligibility for free school meals are higher.

    It said: “This is why the Campaign’s research, which is also based on the 2013 School Census, compares schools to their local areas, not to the national average. It finds that CofE schools are 10% less inclusive than would be expected if they admitted children living in their local community, while schools with no religious character are 11% more inclusive.

    “Furthermore, CofE schools whose admissions policies permit all their places to be allotted on religious grounds admit 31% fewer children eligible for free school meals than would be expected, while CofE schools whose admissions criteria do not allow religious selection admit 4% more”.

    This demonstrates the vital importance of a middle tier, ideally grounded in democratic local structures with the power to enforce fair admissions policies, monitor performance, intervene with effective school improvement strategies and mobilise local resources. The alternative is a Govian dystopia with a highly centralised ministry dispensing largess to favoured groups, promoting the commercial interests of education businesses and keen to impose a curriculum based on a ‘British national identity’ that plays to precisely those 19th century themes that have been partially mitigated by partial development of a comprehensive education system and by the role of local authorities.

    It is ironic that you accuse me of reductionist arguments in a passage immediately following your support for the assertion that “higher scores in National Curriculum tests and in the various measures of examination attainment favoured by government for comparing institutional performance” than their counterparts in non-faith schools.”

    A key argument in education policy circles centres precisely on the failure of test scores to capture the totality of the education experience, most especially for working class children.

    You assert: “The reason that you argument is reductionist, is that the question you are referring to is the rather more complex one that schools which control their own selection, whether they are religious or non-religious, all exhibit “social sorting”.

    This why my argument is not reductionist. Selection is built into our education system; through the existence of private schooling for the wealthy, through the continued existence of grammar schools and the selection machinery that exists alongside them, through the social power exerted by privileged strata in buying into the neighbourhoods of well performing schools and the ability of schools to game the system and subvert the notion of parental choice into the reality that it is schools that do the choosing. (In the context of an appraisal system based on results it is inevitable that they do this to exclude children less likely to perform well in the tests to which you attach so much significance.)

    The existence of ‘faith’ schools is just one part of this system of selection that operates, not to merely to ‘reflect’ social division, as you assert, but to reproduce it.

    The existence of Eton doesn’t merely ‘reflect’ social division, it expresses it, institutionalises it, perpetuates it.

    Your ‘residualisation’ argument – that ‘parents will seek to consolidate transmission of their culturalcapital through manipulating the school admissions system; whereas working class exapl (sic) and less professionally qualified parents put greater value of school proximity and friendship networks’ is precisely why the struggle for a fully comprehensive school system that excludes privilege and allows no child to be advantaged over another, is so important.

  32. P Spence on said:

    I agree with Nick. I remain quite baffled how any socialist can support state funded faith schooling which can but undermine any movement towards comprehensive education and which remains the best hope for working class kids to overcome those who seek their oppression.

  33. Steve Kaczynski on said:

    Occasionally I remember stimulating discussions in school, especially in the last couple of years of secondary when we were being treated more like adults. In English class we were doing Hamlet and I remember the teacher saying that Hamlet refrained from killing the king when he had the chance because of indecision and not because the king was praying and Hamlet feared that he might go to heaven if killed by Hamlet at that point. I remember that I, and some others, disputed this. We thought Hamlet might hate the king enough to want him to go to hell quite literally. I learned later that this idea of trying to secure someone’s eternal damnation is present in other late 16th century English literature and was not unique to Shakespeare.

  34. Nick Wright: It is ironic that you accuse me of reductionist arguments in a passage immediately following your support for the assertion that “higher scores in National Curriculum tests and in the various measures of examination attainment favoured by government for comparing institutional performance” than their counterparts in non-faith schools.”
    A key argument in education policy circles centres precisely on the failure of test scores to capture the totality of the education experience, most especially for working class children.

    Indeed, the evidence may be imperfect, which we need to take into account, however, imperfect evidence is still imperfect and as a professional engineer I am always having to assess the reliability of evidence, while still drawing conclusions

    Nick Wright: The Anglican Church has responded to the publication of the Fair Admissions Campaign findings with the assertion that the latest national data, “published in the Department of Education’s 2013 School Census, shows that 15% of pupils at CofE Secondary pupils are eligible for Free School Meals and that his is the same as the average for non CofE schools.

    This of course would of course not be suprising, as the overwhelming majority of C of E schools have their admissions policy managed by the local authority (whether as VA or Acadamies)

    Nick Wright: why the struggle for a fully comprehensive school system that excludes privilege and allows no child to be advantaged over another, is so important.

    Unless you are proposing taking all children from their parents and bringng them up in state institutions, I fail to see how you are going to remove the advantages that middle class and more affluent parents have in transmitting the advantages of social and culural capital to their children; and the abolition of faith schools is almost a complete irrelevence to that issue.

    Even if no schools had control of their admissions policy, affluence would still assert itself in the geographical catchment areas.

    Nick Wright: This demonstrates the vital importance of a middle tier, ideally grounded in democratic local structures with the power to enforce fair admissions policies, monitor performance, intervene with effective school improvement strategies and mobilise local resources.

    A middle tier which has already gone for most non-faith schools, so your solution is to seek the abolition of the middle tier of management provded by Anglican and Catholic dioceses from the schools that still benefit from such an arrangement!

    Nick Wright: Trying remould this mechanism to accommodate a much smaller Jewish interest was easy enough but trying to accommodate a highly complex modern population shaped by an existing imperialist role, a deeply entrenched colonial history and migration patterns shaped by this and by membership of the EU is an entirely different project.

    It is of course not “a project” but an actually existng reality, where the parents and communties of immigrant and minority religious heritage are exhibitng their own agency to leverage existing arrangements to give expression to practical multi-cultural diversity based upon equalty of regard.

  35. P Spence: I remain quite baffled how any socialist can support state funded faith schooling which can but undermine any movement towards comprehensive education and which remains the best hope for working class kids to overcome those who seek their oppression.

    You are failing to substantiate how faith schoold do that. Indeed as VC schools can only select on the basis of religious beleif once they are oversubscribed, surely making MORE fath schools would make the system more acceptable to you?

  36. Andy Newman,

    Andy,
    It is not simply a question that tests scores provide ‘imperfect evidence to capture the totality of the education experience for, most especially for working class children” but more the purpose to which they are put.

    I am not arguing against monitoring and recording the individual child’s progress and basing interventions on this evidence. Instead I am arguing against structuring a school system based on selection that mobilises these ‘imperfect results’ to institutionally disadvantage working class children or to pay teachers on the basis of their students results.

    The American Statistical Association has intervened in this debate in the USA to warn that that teachers account for between 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in system-level conditions.

    And in the USA test scores are used to ‘fail’ schools and earmark them for charter status (the model for Britain’s academies).

    Obama has retained George W Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, which provides for low-performing schools to be closed while higher performing schools receive financial incentives. A testing regime that evaluates school performance becomes a powerful driver for the closure of schools in difficulties and their replacement by non-state (and commercially-driven) alternatives.

    Recognise this model?

    Diane Ravitch – former education advisor to Bill Clinton – has reversed her original position and now argues that “… charter schools compete to get higher test scores than regular public schools and thus have an incentive to avoid students who might pull down their scores.

    “Some charter schools “counsel out” or expel students just before state testing day. Some have high attrition rates, especially among lower-performing students” she says.

    “I no longer believe that either approach will produce the quantum improvement in American education that we all hope for.

    “High-stakes testing, “utopian” goals, “draconian” penalties, school closings, privatisation, and charter schools didn’t work, she says.

    He concludes that he best predictor of low academic performance is poverty.”

    It is wrong for you to suggest that what I am proposing (a school system that gives all children tan equal chance and that does not give some advantages) can only be achieved by ‘taking all children from their parents and bringing them up in state institutions.’

    I am arguing for the mobilisation of a political alliance of the working class movement and progressive opinion that would, step-by- step, diminish the privileges of, and eventually abolish, private education and institute a comprehensive and secular education system with strong curriculum and compensatory measures to give all children the best education.

    Of course, within the existing framework of capitalist society, the values associated with high levels of literacy and numeracy and access to culture that has most concentrated in some more privileged strata will continue to assert themselves. The point is, not to weaken these values but to make them universal and that requires changing the structures that institutionalise and perpetuate them.

    It is, of course true that under the Gove regime the ‘middle tier, is greatly weakened and in some instances the continuing existence of school improvement resources within diocesan structures retains some of these advantages for confessional schools.

    Good for them, but I want good school improvement sytems and democratic accountability for all schools.

    It is precisely within the context of a democratic regime that a middle tier can mobilise advisors, inspectors, school improvement professionals, education psychologists, governor support and education welfare specialists. A fragmented school system without a framework of local government accountability weakens this resource which is precisely why Labour, not without hesitations and unprincipled compromises, sees it necessary to mitigate some of the consequences of the Gove regime.

    Of course, the ‘actually existing reality’ is that migrant and minority religious heritage communities are exhibiting their own agency.

    That is why I say it is impossible under current arrangements to deny them the same sectional privileges that others have. And why it is so important to make progress towards a comprehensive and secular system.

    I don’t argue that confessional schools are the main expression of our class stratified and deeply discriminatory education system but it they are a perverse expression of it and have no place in a modern society.