Make all state schools secular, and all faith schools – if we must have them – private

Admissions criteria on the basis of religion, or lack of it, is discriminatory and unfair

Share

Faith has never been more hotly contested than when it comes to our children.

But while we wait for the dust to settle in the galloping wake of a herd of Trojan Horses, and as our chuckles over the ironic hashtag #britishvalues turn to weary and wry disappointment, what we’re left with is what we’ve had for far too long – an education system that is discriminatory and unfair.

It is unfair not only to the 14.1 million people, around a quarter of the population in England and Wales, who reported that they have no religion in the 2011 census; but to 33.2m Christians, and 2.7 million Muslims – not to mention Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and other denominations – who find themselves either unrepresented, or unrepresentative, at the heart of their communities. 

Through stubborn loyalty to faith schools, neighbourhoods are increasingly split apart. For where there are admissions criteria favouring religion over location, there are also children transported from other areas into school and away each day, allowing little viability for play-dates, after-school activities or supper clubs.

Like many others, my local community is suffering from a shortage of primary school places. Schools are over-subscribed, thanks to both a baby boom and the popularity of the area (which is close to the Tube and close to central London).

I live 0.3 miles from two community schools – one Catholic, one Church of England – yet my daughter, who will start school in 2016, is ineligible for 10 out of 11 points on the admissions criteria because a) she’s not a "looked after child", and b) because we are atheists.

The only qualifier she'd count for is distance – ranked at 11 on the list – but they rarely get below criteria four, thanks to a plethora of parents so desperate to get in that they queue up at the local church, "passport" in hand, for a stamp each week starting exactly two years prior to entry. Any later to enrol and they too find themselves on the no-hope waiting list.

My daughter, who has lived in the area for all of her short life, has no chance of attending either of her nearest publicly-funded state schools because of our lack of religion. Forget our contribution to the community, moral or financial. We’re not the right "sort", so we – or more poignantly she – isn’t getting in.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves: what do we really want from our education system? ‘Inclusion’, ‘tolerance’ and ‘understanding’ may seem obvious. Yet children attending Church of England, Catholic, Jewish, Sikh, Muslim or Hindu faith schools are in danger of growing up with a warped view of the world that does nothing for those truly "British" values.

These children face an impossible battle against the inferential belief that everyone around them is like them, as the chances are that they’ll grow up without friendships fostered with those of other faiths, or of no faith at all. In this madness, extremism lies.

We talk often, and rightly, of the gender divide, and its effect on generations of young people who grow up just as affected by pay gaps and unequal opportunities as the generation before. But we rarely talk about the faith divide. It is the last taboo; a national scandal that facilitates segregation and fosters the suspicion of outsiders.

So make all state schools secular, and all faith schools – if we must have them – private. Teach the theology of faith – all faiths – and allow children to express themselves through religious dress. But keep religion clear and distinct from decisions over who may attend the local school, and who should be shunned. That, rather than religious discrimination, is the way to a Big Society.

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
One 200ml bottle of codeine linctus contains three times the equivalent level of morphine you'd get in casualty if you broke your wrist  

The ‘war on drugs’ consistently ignores its greatest enemy: over-the-counter painkillers

Janet Street-Porter
The author contemplating what could have been  

I was a timid, kind, gentle-natured child, later to be spurned and humiliated – in short, the perfect terrorist-in-waiting

Howard Jacobson
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
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