Thomas Sutcliffe: There's no denying it... faith schools divide

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I'm not sure I'm in a position to preach about faith schools, having sent two of my children to one at and even, to my perpetual shame, attended church services to rack up the Frequent Flyer points needed to guarantee admission to an admired Church of England primary. Perhaps, though, this confession might count as a kind of credential rather than a disqualification.

It indicates firstly that my prejudice against faith schools isn't so overwhelming that I can't see that some of them are also good schools, and secondly that parental choice – that sacrosanct justification for the Government's proposed expansion of faith schools – can sometimes be a very dimwitted mechanism indeed. I don't have a great deal of confidence in my own parental choice, let alone that of others.

Still, I recognise that no politician could say such a thing. And since Hindu, Sikh and Muslim parents are at a comparative disadvantage when it comes to choosing the religious indoctrination of their children, says the Government, it's only right that this inequality should be corrected. Which begs the question of whether Hindu, Sikh and Muslim parents (or Roman Catholic or Plymouth Brethren parents for that matter) would be making a good choice for their children – or, even more importantly perhaps, for society at large.

This latter issue is clearly praying on the mind of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, because their joint statement on the expansion of faith schools, Faith in the System, is strangely insistent on the ability of religious education to "promote community cohesion" . The phrase is used again and again throughout this flabby and abject document, as if sufficient repetition will induce a hypnotic state of acquiescence.

And I don't think you have to be a signed-up Freudian to wonder whether the reason it occurs so frequently is because the people who drafted the statement are uncomfortably aware that it's the very last thing that faith schools are likely to do. Indeed, if they didn't believe that then, why did the Government attempt (unsuccessfully) to impose regulations about the admission of other or no faith pupils? It's axiomatic: if faith schools increase in number and if more parents choose them, then the consequence will be community dis-integration.

Faith in the System doesn't actually include a single piece of hard evidence that faith schools will "promote community cohesion". Nor does it seriously address any of the important issues about conflicts between religious teaching and the National Curriculum, or between employment rights and doctrinal prejudice. It simply offers a number of anecdotal examples of faith schools which attempt to redress their own cultural homogeneity with exchange visits, comparative religion studies and outreach programmes.

Bizarrely, these schools are actually commended for adopting corrective measures to deal with a problem – ignorance of other cultures and faiths – that they have themselves aggravated. Instead of studying alongside children of different faiths and cultures, experiencing from day to day the countless things they have in common, pupils will be introduced to other faiths as part of the curriculum – effectively as an exercise in comparative anthropology. And, as I say, not one hard fact that supports the case – just a string of bland truisms and pious assurances. I suppose we're just meant to take the rest on faith.

Cool iPod, but uncool Steve ...

Watching Steve Jobs deliver the announcement about the new iPods last week, I was struck again by the discrepancy between the message and the delivery system. Jobs unveils the latest fetish objects of consumer desire. And yet he turns up, as always, in a black turtleneck, New Balance trainers and a pair of Levi 501's. Worse, he's got his turtleneck tucked in to a beltless waist, creating a modest spinnaker of middle-aged spread. What he's got in his hand is quite likely destined for the Museum of Modern Art's design section, but he himself is the sartorial equivalent of some entry-level beige box from PC World. Surely Jonathan Ive, Apple's celebrated design genius, could spare 30 seconds to refresh the CEO's packaging.

* The New York Times carries an entertaining piece about rejection letters, the results of a trawl through an archive of the American publisher Alfred A Knopf. "A dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions," runs one reader's report on a manuscript to which the firm eventually gave the thumbs down. Eventually Doubleday picked up the book and revealed that there actually was a market for The Diary of Anne Frank. But the most impressive detail concerns Knopf's robust manner of getting the message across when he wanted to discourage an author. To one prominent Ivy League historian, he wrote: "Your manuscript is utterly hopeless as a candidate for our list. I never thought the subject worth a damn to begin with and I don't think it's worth a damn now. Lay off, MacDuff. " It would be nice if a few British publishers could match his forthrightness, given the pointlessness of some of the titles currently on the market.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

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