In the past few months there have been countless articles written about faith schools, with one of the primary failings being ‘the failure to promote British values’. Recently, an Islamic primary school in Tottenham has been closed down and four Christian schools brought under scrutiny, all criticised for the same thing. At no point did reports make it clear what exactly is meant by ‘British values’ so I deciphered what it meant through the comments that were made of the schools.
One of the reports wrote that ‘there are too few opportunities for pupils to learn about the differences between other cultures, religions and communities.’ It implies that the problem in faith schools is the lack of promotion of diversity. The problem with this statement is that this problem does not simply exist in faith schools. I attended a state school, and the Religious Education subject was nowhere near a priority or even as important as any of the other subjects. Religious education takes a back seat in most schools and so the experience of learning about different religions isn’t just a problem with faith schools, but with all.
Furthermore, the issue of not learning about other cultures is another that exists nationwide. Most English literature courses are focused on British writers, most History courses are taught from the ‘British perspective’. I can understand why there’s an emphasis on learning British culture and British History because we are residents of Britain. However, the argument against faith schools is that they are not ‘broad and balanced’ and the students are not exposed to ‘different’ cultures. Again, this is a problem in most schools nationwide. We simply do not get to learn about other cultures, period. On a national scale, there is no serious push to be learning about other cultures and other religions. So why, why, are they specifically targeting faith schools with these criticisms when even state schools are drastically lacking in those same areas?
There also seems to be an expectation that faith schools provide moral, spiritual, cultural and social development. When, in any state school, have we had specific lessons orientated towards our spiritual, moral, cultural or even social health? This requirement that faith schools have moral and social development is not just an expectation for those schools but it should be for all.
The rhetoric they are using to alienate faith schools is really just a way of ignoring the national education problem. The issues they seemed to have found in faith schools exist in many non-faith schools. And, unfortunately, rather than actually trying to get to the root of the problem or looking at their existing model of education, they’re reacting in the most immature way; to shut down. Shutting these schools down is not going to get rid of any problems. All it is doing is creating more anxiety around religion and creating even more division.