Faith schools must not be funded by us

Why should we allow governors to promote religious segregation?


Here is an alarming statistic: about a third of state-funded schools are now "faith" establishments. How this has happened in a secular country, where few of us attend a church, mosque or temple, is hard to comprehend. Religious schools are the most racially segregated, according to the British Humanist Association; it has published research suggesting that the majority of state-funded Sikh, Muslim and Hindu schools have no "white British" pupils. Yet new "faith" schools are opening all the time, thanks mainly to the Government's free schools programme.

Last week, Ofsted published a damning report on a Muslim free school in Derby, describing the Al-Madinah school as "dysfunctional". The school's shortcomings, including employment of inadequately qualified teachers, are too many to catalogue. The governing body has now written to staff, withdrawing a requirement for female teachers to wear headscarves, but the letter includes a revealing statement: "Until recently, in keeping with our ethos as a faith based school we believed that it was in the best interests of pupils at Al-Madinah school, their parents and the community that female members of staff cover their hair."

In a country which is legally committed to gender equality, how did anyone imagine such a policy was acceptable, let alone that it should be funded with public money? This episode highlights a major flaw in the thinking behind the free schools programme. Fifteen months ago, an Ofsted inspector visited the trust that proposed setting up the school. She reported that various regulations were unlikely to be met, including a requirement for all members of staff to undergo training in child protection.

Its curriculum sounded like a madrassa. It promised to encourage tolerance and respect but the school's prospectus was open about censorship; books and resources would have to "conform to the teachings of Islam" and anything considered "sensitive, inaccurate and potentially blasphemous" would be removed. Despite all this, the inspector recommended that the free school should be allowed to open.

Since 2010, about half the applications to set up free schools have come from religious groups. That isn't surprising; it's a fantastic opportunity for proselytising. The applicants have included nine private schools teaching an American form of Creationism which holds that the Loch Ness monster exists and disproves evolution. They didn't get through the process but almost a third of successful applications have a religious ethos. There is even a Maharishi free school in Lancashire that teaches "consciousness-based education", invented by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, one-time "spiritual adviser" to The Beatles.

The purpose of education is to develop critical faculties. We don't have atheist schools or Lib Dem schools, and kids should be left to make up their own minds. The debacle in Derby demonstrates that religion has no place in state-funded education, other than as an optional subject.;

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Customer Support Technician

£15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Waterlooville based softwa...

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

Recruitment Genius: Associate Sales Consultant

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Associate Sales Consultant i...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: The five reasons why I vote

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff

Daily catch-up: the gap between rich and poor has narrowed (a little) since the banking crisis

John Rentoul
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot