With the public, of all faiths and none, increasingly recognising the problems caused by faith schools, NSS president Terry Sanderson calls out politicians who complain about religious separatism on one hand while deliberately promoting it on the other.
Tony Blair, who was the chief architect of Britain’s dangerous “faith school” experiment when he was Labour Prime Minister, now appears to be having doubts about it.
Speaking at a session on world education at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai in March, Mr Blair said that intolerance must be “confronted” wherever it is found. And school is a good place to do it.
Asked whether, in general, faith schools can lead to greater segregation, Mr Blair replied: “That’s a very good question, and it’s one I ask myself often because faith schools are a big part of the UK system, a lot of people like to educate their children in those schools because sometimes they have a stronger ethos, a stronger kind of grounding in values and so on.
“I think what I would say is faith schools only work if they’re also integrated in the education system, it’s very important that young people, even if they’re taught in a school of a particular faith, are taught about other faiths, are taught in what I would say is a constructive way”.
He went on: “This question of what I call education for the open mind, is really, really important now”.
So, there we have it: Mr Blair thinks that “faith schools” only work if they are integrated into the education system”. The problem with this is that they are integrated into the education system and, as far as community cohesion is concerned, they are a disaster.
Even in community schools, that are supposedly free from a particular single religious influence, it isn’t difficult for religious zealots to gain influence. We’ve seen it happen in some Muslim areas when determined Islamists have overwhelmed community schools and tried to impose a “religious ethos” that wouldn’t be out of place in Saudi Arabia.
We are told that these schools are now returned to their original purpose of giving children a balanced education – indeed, a committee of MPs is now saying that there was no problem in the first place. But can we really dismiss the testimony of parents at these schools who were interviewed at the time and expressed their alarm at what was happening? Were the newspaper investigations that found evidence for the plot all made up? Were those teachers who were fired to make way for more Islamically pure replacements telling lies? And if there was no problem, why was the whole board of governors fired?
Terry Sanderson is the president of the National Secular Society. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the NSS.