Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Faith schools and free schools: a footnote

Faith is just the bathwater; ethics, compasion, social awareness -those things make up the baby. I can cope very well with an unwashed baby. - James Bloodworth on Twitter
This post is basically a footnote to yesterday's, so please read that one first (or, if you only read one, read that one). Three items in today's paper amplify the argument I made: on Islamic schools, on Mohammed Sidique Khan and on Michael Gove's free [sic] schools.

Last night's Dispatches, which I didn't watch, went undercover in Islamic schools and found some examples of pretty horrific goings on. It may be that violent punishment and viscious denigration of Hindus, liberal Muslims and unbelievers are not the norm in Muslim schools, but it shows why seperate schools for seperate faiths is a bad idea.

The story about Khan (the main 7/7 bomber) is more complex. He worked in a comprehensive school, where he tried to convert children Islam, invited "fervent" Islamic preachers into the school, and later went on to "radicalise" the teenage boys who deployed the suicide bombs in London. This is not an issue of segregated faith schools at all, but of the way all our schools welcome "inspirational" religious figures (Muslim and Christian) within what should be secular space.

The government's new Education Bill gives the Secretary of State the discretion to reserve all teaching posts in Voluntary Controlled schools that convert to academies. Voluntary Controlled schools are the local authority schools with links to the Church of England and other denominational groups, but are not strictly faith schools; the Education Bill allows them to become more like faith schools as part of their semi-privatisation as academies. In other words, more Mohammed Sidique Khans teaching our children, not less.

(Paradoxically, Khan - like most of Britain's other Islamist terrorists - was not a product of the "parallel lives" Cameron promotes fears of: he grew up in a "very liberal" family and studied at university.)

And then there are free schools. Four of the most recent eight free schools to be given approval are faith-based: the Etz Chaim Jewish primary school in London, the I-Foundation Hindu primary school in Leicester, a Church of England primary school – St Luke’s – in Camden, and the Anglican Discovery school in West Sussex. And of the ten just previously given permission to develop business plans and seek approval seven are faith schools, including Tauheedul Islam Boys' High School in Blackburn, as well as one preaching transcendental meditation and one run by the puritanical Free Church.

As Jackie Ashley writes, David Cameron "wants faith groups to set up their own schools, with taxpayers' money. Is it really in the national interest to have more Muslim-only, Catholic-only and Jewish-only schools, where children can be insulated from the realities of the Britain around them? Is this what happens when you announce the death of multiculturalism – a maze of competing and mutually uncomprehending little monocultures?"

Meanwhile, the community anchor organisations that sustain the real, existing big society is under threat from the austerity cuts. "Hammersmith and Fulham Council has confirmed it will sell seven buildings that are being used by charities and community groups, including Palingswick House, which houses 21 third sector organisations." Palingswick House is used by several different refugee organisations, a place where they come together and interact with others of different cultures (many, in fact, provide citizenship education, teaching the Life in the UK programme). And what is happening to the building? "The council has issued a public statement saying Palingswick House is one of two locations that "may become available" for the West London Free School, which is being set up by the author and journalist Toby Young."

A footnote to the footnote: More on some of the proposed free schools.

In a recent article, Yasmin Alibihi Brown writes:
The next charge: hypocrisy. This Government is enthusiastically funding schools for separatists – from snooty white middle-classes, to pedantic, purist Hindus, nutty, evangelical Christians, and introverted, uncompromising Muslims. How does that foster integration? Michael Gove has just been accused by Bradford City Council of encouraging segregation by funding a new free school started up by Ayub Ismail, who wants to ensure his pupils are not "absorbed into the dominant culture". Saudis are allowed by our Government to brainwash Muslims who are then despised. The Tory party's right and left buttocks move in different directions. Not clever nor consistent with the PM's Big Message of the week.
She's talking about the Rainbow Free School.
Rainbow primary Free School will not officially be a “faith school”, politicians have become alarmed after it was revealed that one of its proponents, Ayub Ismail, submitted a report to Bradford Council calling for all Muslim pupils to be educated in “faith schools” in order to “avoid the problem” of them being exposed to values that conflict with their religion.

The Yorkshire Post has uncovered the document written by Mr Ismail (which predates and is not directly connected with the Rainbow school). It was written on behalf of the Bradford Council of Mosques as part of a consultation exercise on the future of education in Bradford. It claimed that Muslim pupils are disadvantaged and marginalised in the city's state schools because the cultural heritage of the curriculum is "European and Christian". It says: "Muslim schools provide an education in accordance with the Muslim beliefs and values, such as providing single-sex schooling after puberty. They are thus a response to the danger of absorption into the dominant culture."

And then there's the Everyday Champions Church, applying to open a free school in Newark, Nottinghamshire, next year. It plans to teach Creationism in the school.


The Contentious Centrist said...

"Faith is just the bathwater; ethics, compasion, social awareness -those things make up the baby. I can cope very well with an unwashed baby. - "

I really don't like this metaphor. The author takes the position that the choice is either between an unwashed baby or keeping it clean through immersion in a bath of water.

Why concede that the baby can only be kept clean by immersing it in water? Sounds to me that the author accepts a certain Christian premise here, an unconscious and given identification between baptism and human decency.

Rob Marchant said...

Two fine and thoughtful posts, Bob. Found this as I have just (independently) been musing on the inconsistency between TB's faith schools fervour and his recognition that segregation is a problem here. I can't help feeling that we are all going to be regretting all this excitement in 10-20 years' time.

bob said...

Rob, honoured to have you visit. Thanks for the comment. Enjoyed your post, which I will link to.