Having read an excellent opinion piece in the Huffington Post UK by Stephen Evans ( http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/stephen-evans/faith-schools_b_7600660.html?utm_hp_ref=tw) it reflected on my attitude towards religion in education. I don’t believe it is up to the State to ram religion down the throats of children or base the National Curriculum around it, but in many cases children cannot escape religion whilst at school.
I loathe school admissions based on faith. I think it’s divisive. A school can have an application from a bright child, but must reject them because they follow the wrong faith or have no faith at all. I think outside of London the CofE schools are available to pretty much everyone, and because of limited options in some places even Catholic schools are becoming more inclusive. However, there is still a long way to go.
My niece and nephew go to a church school in a rural area. Neither of their parents attend church or have strong religious beliefs. (I would say the household is agnostic). But the Church of England provides education in many villages in the area, and there is little choice. Most kids go to the nearest school, and that school happens to be a faith school. (I went to the same school when I was young).
It’s traditional in the UK for the Church to provide education for children, way before when most Victorian schools that exist today were built. It’s hard to turn turn the tide after centuries of this provision. I am an advocate for the banning of faith schools, but the culture and traditions hold strong in many regions.
Even in community or non – faith schools, religion is inescapable. My daughter has to study RE in her urban community primary, even though she and many of her classmates follow no religion at all. Currently she tells me that her teacher has a laissez faire attitude to RE, in that he gives them a worksheet to complete to fulfill the bare minimum of requirements, and I could hug him for it. I know that other teachers from the same school bore their pupils to death with RE.
The school canteen doesn’t serve pork in case it offends some parents. My daughter tells me the Muslim kids eat the vegetarian options or bring in their own lunch, so halal chicken sausages are really a futile measure to please everyone. As it happens she likes chicken sausages!
Every Christmas there is a play or show to take part in, featuring the icons like Baby Jesus, sheep and donkeys. My child goes to a school with kids from many Christian denominations, from Catholic to the newer churches of Africa and the West Indies, to Muslim, and the odd Hindu. Yet oddly, as the Christmas play progresses, two things occur to me; how equal the kids are doing the play (in that all of them want to take part and enjoy doing so) and that religion isn’t the thing that binds them. It’s friendship, a stronger need of faith in my book.
In my ideal world religion should be separate from education, to be followed as an extracurricular hobby or activity. But I can’t fight tradition, culture, and the amount of cash the Church puts in to funding schools. I can’t win over our politicians, who still believe religion and the charity they provide is goid for our kids. But I have faith in our children, though, who, religious or not, are always able to find a common interest to build friendships and relationships without religion impeding them. I am hopeful.