Melanie McDonagh: Faith schools work. Until you take the faith away

Share
Related Topics

Accord, a campaign group which will be launched tomorrow, wants to persuade the Government to stop religious schools engaging in religious discrimination. It wants so-called faith schools to be open to all, with pupils, teachers and staff drawn impartially from all faiths and none. It also wants a common, inclusive religious education for all schools.

So far, so not-new, and characteristic of anything you might expect to hear from the National Union of Teachers or the National Secular Society. But the thing about Accord is that its ranks are swelled by religious individuals as well as professional agnostics such as Tessa Blackstone. The chairman is a progressive rabbi, Dr Jonathan Romain.

It is supported by the Christian think-tank, Ekklesia, whose co-director, Jonathan Bartley, said "often faith schools take pupils only from their own fath or even from their own denomination within a faith. For schools to advertise for someone of a particular faith that means that 90 per cent of the population will be ruled out straightaway."

Well, I have news for Mr Bartley. That's what makes a faith school a faith school. Actually, can we cut to the chase here? Most of them are actually church schools run by the Church of England and the Roman Catholic church – they're the ones that secular-minded parents are lying and cheating and going to church to get their children into.

But it's precisely the fact that they are discriminatory that makes them Catholic, or Anglican, or Jewish, or Muslim. A Catholic school in which the children are drawn impartially from all religious groups and none, in which the staff, from the head down, are no more likely to be Catholic than agnostic, is simply not going to be a Catholic school , period. It will simply be a school which happens to have a funny religious name and which has a distant historical connection with the Catholic church, by virtue of having been established by an order of nuns or whatever.

It will be impossible for such a school to have what is fashionably called a Christian ethos – because, believe it or not, such an ethos is not some sort of free-floating quality which happens to attach itself to a church school. It comes from the religion which is not just taught, but practised within it and which, if you take it on its own terms, is meant to help the children to flourish.

Of course a church school is discriminatory, in the way that any institution that has a particular distinguishing characteristic is discriminatory. A working men's club is discriminatory in the sense that it is not the Bullingdon Club. A Labour university society is discriminatory in that it is intended for people of a Labour persuasion rather than diehard Tories.

It may be argued that there are no laws to prevent Boris Johnson and David Cameron from joining a Labour club – but the advent of Conservatives into it would, I suggest, change its character quite markedly. The Women's Institute is remarkably inclusive – as long as you are a woman.

There is, of course, the usual argument that church schools engage in cream-skimming, or selecting pupils on the basis of their family background. Figures from the research group, the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, suggest that on average in all English local education authorities, 17.3 per cent of pupils get free school meals; the average in Catholic schools is 12.5 per cent.

But as Sandra McNally of the Centre for Ecomonic Performance points out, the data do not prove that schools are socially selective. They might be. Or it might be that the people who apply to them are more likely to be middle class.

Church schools work. And given the patchy record of the state system, what we don't need to do is to tear the heart out of one group of schools within it that perform, in general, really well. Accord is simply a recipe for discord.

React Now

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

Technical Project Manager - Software and Infrastructure - Government Experience

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Central Lon...

Head of Business Studies

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Head of Business Studies needed for a ...

Teaching Assistant in secondary school Manchester

£11280 - £14400 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Teaching a...

Primary teaching roles in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education re...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A homeless person sleeps in the streets  

This is why I am sleeping rough outside the party conferences

Max J Freeman
Strikes were carried out by manned air force and navy aircraft (File photo)  

Syria air strikes: President Assad now has the enemy he always wanted – Islamist terrorism

Kim Sengupta
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits