A Load of Bright
An atheist's views on religion and the supernatural

UK Faith Schools Petition Update


Back in April I urged my British readers to sign an online petition to ban faith schools in the UK. The Prime Minster’s office has now responded to that petition.

The Government remains committed to a diverse range of schools for parents to choose from, including schools with a religious character or “faith schools” as they are commonly known.

Religious Education (RE) in all schools, including faith schools, is aimed at developing pupils’ knowledge, understanding and awareness of the major religions represented in the country. It encourages respect for those holding different beliefs and helps promote pupils’ moral, cultural and mental development. In partnership with national faith and belief organisations we have introduced a national framework for RE. In February 2006, the faith communities affirmed their support for the framework in a joint statement making it clear that all children should be given the opportunity to receive inclusive RE, and that they are committed to making sure the framework is used in the development of RE in all their schools and colleges.

The Churches have a long history of providing education in this country and have confirmed their commitment to community cohesion. Faith schools have an excellent record in providing high-quality education and serving disadvantaged communities and are some of the most ethnically and socially diverse in the country. Many parents who are not members of a particular faith value the structured environment provided by schools with a religious character.

This is disappointing to say the least. Even accounting for its brevity, this response does not even begin to tackle the issues at hand.

I have no objection to the education system “developing pupils’ knowledge, understanding and awareness of the major religions represented in the country”. But that is not what many of these faith schools are doing – they are teaching myths as facts, fairytales as science, unfounded religious dogma as evidentially supported conclusions. Children can learn about religion at a regular state school, we do not need faith schools for that.

I am concerned by the claim that a faith school “encourages respect for those holding different beliefs” without any mention of whether or not those beliefs actually deserve respect. The beliefs of young Muslims whose parents have taught them to hate the Jews have not earned any respect, and the education system should counter, not accommodate this despicable practice of racist indoctrination.

Once again, we see the obsession with diversity. I touched on this issue in my article Positive Discrimination (Wince!), where I showed that this paradigm of celebrated diversity is merely racism dressed up and posing as anti-racism.

What cannot be overlooked is that, just as with religion in general, there are no benefits a faith school can offer pupils that can’t be enjoyed at a regular state school, where they wouldn’t be taught that Noah’s flood actually happened. I would like to see a national debate followed by a referendum on this issue, although I doubt that will happen.

16 Responses to “UK Faith Schools Petition Update”

  1. On the plus side:

    The petition:

    “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to prevent the use of creationist and other pseudo-scientific propaganda in Government-funded schools.”

    Details of Petition:

    “The Prime Minister has recently spoken about the importance of science education in the UK. Creationism & Intelligent design are greatly featured in the media and are being used disingenuously to portray science & the theory or evolution as being in crisis when they are not. Moreover groups such as Truth in Science are targeting our nation’s children and their science education with material that is not only non-scientific but have been rejected by the scientific community. These ideas therefore do not constitute science, cannot be considered scientific education and therefore do not belong in the nation’s science classrooms.”

    The response:

    The Government remains committed ensuring that young people have an understanding of the importance of science and the world around them.

    Science is a core subject of the National Curriculum throughout every Key Stage. The National Curriculum secures for all pupils, irrespective of background and ability, an entitlement to a range of areas of learning. Its aim is to develop the knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes necessary for each pupil’s self-fulfilment and development as an active and responsible citizen. It makes expectations for learning and attainment explicit to pupils, parents, teachers, governors, employers and the public, and establishes national standards for the performance of all pupils. All materials that support the teaching, learning and assessment of primary and secondary education, can be found on the National Curriculum website (new window).

    The Government is aware that a number of concerns have been raised in the media and elsewhere as to whether creationism and intelligent design have a place in science lessons. The Government is clear that creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science. The science programmes of study set out the legal requirements of the science National Curriculum. They focus on the nature of science as a subject discipline, including what constitutes scientific evidence and how this is established. Students learn about scientific theories as established bodies of scientific knowledge with extensive supporting evidence, and how evidence can form the basis for experimentation to test hypotheses. In this context, the Government would expect teachers to answer pupils’ questions about creationism, intelligent design, and other religious beliefs within this scientific framework.

    We will be publishing guidance for schools, on the way creationism and intelligent design relate to science teaching. It will be possible to ensure that the weight of scientific opinion is properly presented. The guidance will be available on the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority website in due course.

    Not a 100% dismissal, but better than ‘teach the controversy’.

  2. Yeah, I recieved that too, and was saddened to see that something without evidence is still touted as being “worthy” simply because there is a claim of it aiding “community cohesiveness”, regardless that these things actually create barriers to cultural integration.

    The “respect” angle I wholeheartedly agree with. Is one, then, supposed to “respect” that someone else thinks that they’ll be damned for all eternity for not choosing the “right” deity to supplicate themselves to? I can’t see this happening:

    Kid 1: “I’m a catholic, so I say that islam is wrong. The pope says so.”
    Kid 2: “I’m a muslim, and we think you’re going to hell, infidel.”
    Kid 1: “I don’t agree with that, but I respect your idea that I will be tortured for all eternity.”
    Teacher: “Very good, class. I’ll give you an A for respecting each other’s beliefs.”

    Yeah, right, that’s how it goes…

  3. Forgive my ignorance of how public schools work in the UK. Are there two separate schools–both faith schools and a regular state school? If so does a parent get to decide which school there child attends? Here in the US public schools all teach evolution, although some states are having some issues with the religious Right trying to force Intelligent Design into the schools (see Kansas). Yet I can tell you the private Christian schools are flourishing here anyway, whether it be Catholic or otherwise. But these must be paid for.

    Just wondering, as if Intelligent Design (or whatever they want to call it) is taught in all schools or you don’t have a choice of where to send you children because of where you live, then there are some serious problems.

  4. I agree, let’s teach that atheistic truth in the schools!

    1.) Matter came from non matter
    2.) Life came from non life (hey Bobby, remember your great grandfather (to the 400th power) used to be a rock!)
    3.) consciousness came from non consciousness.
    4.) self awareness came from non self awareness
    5.) reason came from non reason.
    You can’t show evidence of any of it, but you teach it daily in the schools. Most amazing is that you can do it with a straight face.

    At least if I sent my kids to a church school, I would have to pay the full tab with no tax payer contribution. But in your public school, the evolution myth is taught at tax payer expense.

    Also, to nullifidian, let me see if I have you scenario correct.
    1.) Kid #1 – I am an atheist and anyone who thinks otherwise is preposterous and stupid (oh! that’s not kid 1, that’s Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Chris Hitchens.)
    2.) Kid #2 – I am Jewish and believe in the God of the Bible
    3.) Kid #1 – You Jews have perverted the world by making up the God of the Bible – you must have evolved wrongly! Oh yes, and you are preposterous and stupid!

    Do I have it right?

  5. Let me add that I am not in favor of teaching religion in the public schools.

  6. @ Cragar,

    Essentially, there are two kinds of schools, but they are state schools and private schools. Parents are free to send their children where they like, provided there are places available and if it’s a private school, then of course, they have to pay.

    The Faith schools are private schools set up as part of an initiative with the Government, where a benefactor can spend around £2m on setting up a school, the government then adds around £20m, and the benefactor can decide the ‘ethos’ of the school. The UK car dealer Reg Vardy has at least one faith school he has set up on this initiative, as I remember. Because we don’t have church/state separation here, it is not illegal to teach religion.

    In most schools, it isn’t a problem, but there’s a principle at stake.

    @ Geno

    De ja vu again. You are simply trying to provoke another debate about religion versus atheism in general, where you will reel out the same arguments that I have seen from you now on a number of occasions, each of which saw them refuted. You seem to have a sudden case of amnesia after each one. Any discussions on this thread must stay central to the theme of the post.

    I hope you’re not planning to do this on every post. If you can’t find some new material, or something constructive to offer to the central theme of each article, I will ban you from the site. If you want to debate religion in general, go and sign up at the Internet Infidels Discussion Board (there’s a link on the sidebar), you may learn something. Don’t use each one of my posts to make the same arguments over and over.

  7. tobe:

    Is there any substantiation (no pun intended) for the four claims in this sentence? (the numbering is mine, of course) (1)Faith schools have an excellent record in providing high-quality education and (2) serving disadvantaged communities and (3) are some of the most ethnically and (4) socially diverse in the country.

    Not that proving or disproving that statement would matter to your argument — with which I wholeheartedly agree — but if there were any bullshit factor at all in the Prime Minister’s official position, it would be nice to be able to point it out.

    Also, pardon my ignorance about legislative and legal procedures in the UK, but I have some questions.
    1. Would it be possible — not probable, mind you, just theoretically possible — for parliament to enact a law stipulating the separation of church and state?
    2. If such a law were enacted, how would it be enforced? And who would be the judges?
    3. Are there any individuals or organizations in the UK currently pushing for the adoption of such a law?

    I’m particularly interested because we American church-state separatists took a bad hit today. You can read about it on my blog — or dozens of others, I’m sure.

    By the way, great response to Geno.

  8. So for basically 10% down and rest paid for by the government, a private school can be set up to teach whatever faith based “knowledge” they want, and still charge for these students and presumably make a profit?

    If I am reading that correctly then you are right there are some serious problems.

  9. @ The Exterminator

    The truth is, I don’t know if any of those 4 points are true. They might be. I’m sure that the Labour government could offer statistics supporting them, and I’m equally sure that the Conservative opposition could offer statistics refuting them. I would have researched them if they were relevant but, as you say, they’re really just obfuscation and not relevant to the discussion.

    On to the second part of your comment.

    1. I don’t think it would be possible without abolishing the monarchy. The monarch is the head of state, and the head of the English church. Church and state can’t get much less separate then that! Aslo, every law passed by the government has to be signed by the monarch. The queeen would effetively have to sign her own death warrant.
    2. I think we would have to have an entirely new constitution, and I would hope it would be much like your own.
    3. The first step really is to get rid of the monarchy. It serves absolutely no purpose at all in a modern democracy, and is merely an archaic, theocratic system that has managed to linger on in our country to the present day. I don’t have statistics to hand, but I think the Royal Family are generally a lot less popular in the UK than they used to be, so in that sense there are people pushing for it. I doubt that I’ll see it in my lifetime, though.

  10. @ Cragar

    So for basically 10% down and rest paid for by the government, a private school can be set up to teach whatever faith based “knowledge” they want, and still charge for these students and presumably make a profit?

    That’s pretty much the size of it.

  11. @Geno

    I agree, let’s teach that atheistic truth in the schools!

    1.) Matter came from non matter
    2.) Life came from non life (hey Bobby, remember your great grandfather (to the 400th power) used to be a rock!)
    3.) consciousness came from non consciousness.
    4.) self awareness came from non self awareness
    5.) reason came from non reason.
    You can’t show evidence of any of it, but you teach it daily in the schools. Most amazing is that you can do it with a straight face.

    1. Not part of evolution, so not taught.
    2. Ditto.
    3. Ditto.
    4. Ditto.
    5. Ditto.

    Seriously, put down the Dembski.

    You should go back to strawman class – yours are particularly weak. Perhaps a little more padding in the arms, torso and neck.

    I find it completely hilarious that you think that we think that we came from “a rock”. Aside from being a strawman, you seem to have no problem thinking we came from mud/rib/golden egg on a mountain top (or whatever your particular creation myth of choice is).

    At least if I sent my kids to a church school, I would have to pay the full tab with no tax payer contribution. But in your public school, the evolution myth is taught at tax payer expense.

    *sigh* If you sent your kid to a “church” school in the UK (you know, the topic that the rest of us are actually talking about) the tax payer would be paying. That’s the entire point of Tobe’s post.

    And the reason that evolution is taught is because it’s actually true. I would point you to talkorigins, but I know that your purple tinted lenses prevent you from being able to read such information. If you can provide any evidence for your creationist claptrap (besides the usual “I can’t understand how! goddidit!”) I invite you to do so: a Nobel prize, world renown and academic acclaim awaits with bated breath.

    Also, to nullifidian, let me see if I have you scenario correct.
    1.) Kid #1 – I am an atheist and anyone who thinks otherwise is preposterous and stupid (oh! that’s not kid 1, that’s Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Chris Hitchens.)
    2.) Kid #2 – I am Jewish and believe in the God of the Bible
    3.) Kid #1 – You Jews have perverted the world by making up the God of the Bible – you must have evolved wrongly! Oh yes, and you are preposterous and stupid!

    Do I have it right?

    No, you don’t. The problem lies in the mutual exclusivity of the various “revealed” religions, none of which have any evidence to support them, yet they all claim to be 100% true.

    Tu quoque with a side of strawman, anyone?

    Seriously, if you really are a bona fide professor, I feel for your charges. Whoever is paying for their tuition, I think they deserve a refund.

  12. I’m not up on education in the UK, but this doesn’t sound right. It’s a bit like the voucher system that the religious right wanted to institute in the US. Luckily, home education is an option in the state of Maine in the US, so my kids are unschoolers. No pesky debates about ID or Evolution around here. Our car is affectionately known as The Beagle.

    Shine On,
    Lill

  13. Lill said:

    Our car is affectionately known as The Beagle.

    raptuous applause. That, I love. I might steal it, if it’s ok with you (your idea, not your car)?😉

  14. Good idea to clear that up, otherwise she’d know exactly whom to blame!

  15. […] faith schools gained 3,191 signatures and this response from the PM’s office, which really misses the point on every possible level. This petition, in favour of faith schools and more alarmingly, in favour of creationism, got […]

  16. This thread is old – there is now a new petition to confront the issue of faith schools and in light of what is happening and the division between certain faiths is breaking multiculturalism apart, it is now time to strike with this idea – I believe the backing for such a proposal will now be huge
    SIGN IT NOW :
    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/49685
    AND SPEAD THE WORD
    peace to the faithless


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