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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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
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

Year 5/6 Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The JobWe are looking ...

Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The Job...Due to continued ...

Supply Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Supply TeachersWould you l...

Job opportunities for SEN teachers and support staff in Essex

£50 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are urgently looking for...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice