Religion and education - no longer a sensible mix

personally speaking

"Hands off our church schools!" the bishops have warned the Government. "Otherwise we'll use our power in the Lords to derail your Education Bill." And David Blunkett has given in without a rude gesture.

Why did he not turn round and say, "No. You get your hands off our schools."? For it is one of the strangest anachronisms of modern secular Britain that we have a huge category of schools, almost entirely funded by Government, yet claimed and in important respects run by the church.

Of course, David Blunkett could never have got away with it. The church schools provide a moral framework and an ethos that would otherwise disappear entirely from our Godforsaken society, don't they? More than that, they are good schools.

That is the argument which would be used against a proposed de-churching of our schools. But it is a non-argument. It shows that what we want is not religious schools, but simply good schools. And where is the integrity in indoctrinating your children with a "moral framework" that we as adults have all rejected?

The fundamental inconsistency is that education is a liberal enterprise, and religion is a conservative one. They simply don't go together. It seems easier to grasp this when the demand is made for state-funded Islamic schools. But that, as the Runnymede Trust has pointed out is really only because of our ill-informed prejudices against an unknown religion. It is only the obsolescence of Christianity that makes it look harmless in comparison? Education is liberal because it teaches us about exploration, autonomy, and the relative nature of truth. The religions which want to run schools are conservative because they stand for revelation, heteronomy, and the absolute and unchanging nature of truth.

"Christian education" was a favourite phrase of the Diocesan Board of Education on which I briefly sat. No one could ever define it - though there was a senior official who believed Christianity went so deep into the curriculum that Christian mathematics was different in kind from ordinary mathematics.

Of course, most people who subscribe to the idea of Christian education hold a less polarised view of it. All they mean is that the churches have done a good job to date, and a degree of religious commitment seems to make for conscientious and caring teachers. And yes to both those points. The church did a good job, in making us see that education should not be confined to the moneyed classes. At a time when there was little alternative provision, the church led the way.

That was a long time ago. We live in a different world today. There are demands for other groups with strong convictions to have parity with the Church of England in the educational system. These demands expose the widening gulf between education and indoctrination. Of course, the propagation of religious beliefs should be seen as an ordinary human right. But what of our children's secular human rights?

The Secretary of State for Education now has on his desk a joint proposal from a Church of England diocese and a local education authority for the church to take over a comprehensive school which, it is feared, might otherwise fail. If the proposal is approved, the LEA will be weakened by the loss of a county school, and by the perception that it couldn't do its own job there.

The church, too, appears in a bad light. It has taken advantage of the LEA's difficulties in order to build its own empire. It will impose religious criteria for entry, and like the other church schools in that borough, this school will go slowly upmarket. Social selection will begin to operate. Many parents will be pleased.

But it will have been at the expense of the greater good: at the expense of the LEA, at the expense of those whose educational choices are already limited, and at the expense of liberal education.

Mr Blunkett should resist this move, as he should resist any of the churches' attempts to enlarge their role in secular education. And the churches should admit that it is time to find ways of letting go of their educational heritage. Education and religion don't mix.

Kenneth Wilson

The writer, a former Anglican vicar, has been a governor of church and county schools. He is a member of a local authority governors' advisory forum.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Network Manager - Oldham area - Up to £30,000

£26000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

Teacher of special needs required for Burton on Trent

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Exciting Opportunity, Rand...

Behaviour Support Assistant

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Behaviour Support Worker Th...

Youth Worker / Teaching Assistant - Nottingham

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are looki...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home