The church of England and state education

19 Apr

As a member of the British Humanist Association, I wrote to my (very good) MP, Emily Thornberry about a potential increase in the role of the church of England in education. She raised it with the Schools Minister, Jonathan Hill, and has sent me a copy of his reply.

He writes, “Currently, it is not possible for a maintained school without a religious designation to convert to become an Academy with a religious designation in a single process. Any maintained school that wishes to gain a religious designation must follow a clearly laid out statutory process, which includes a requirement to consult on that change locally. It is possible to publish concurrent proposals to cover the requirements of these two separate processes.

“The Department is currently looking at school organisation regulations with a view to streamlining processes and reducing bureaucracy, as far as possible. However, the current requirement for a maintained school without a religious designation to close and then re-open as a new maintained ‘faith’ school in order to obtain a religious designation is set out in primary legislation. Any change to this requirement would, therefore, be subject to Parliamentary process and agreement.”

As Emily Thornberry points out in her covering letter, “It is clear that discussions on this point are continuing, and it is quite possible that the Secretary of State might seek to change the regulations or the primary legislation.”

As an 11-year-old, I was fortunate to win a scholarship to a public school, unfortunate in that it was to a Methodist public school. On our first day we were asked what our religion was (a school friend remembers me saying I was an atheist!), there were prayers in assembly every morning, rather a lot of scripture lessons and the boarders had to go to chapel twice every Sunday (luckily I was a day girl).

While I believe it is important for schools to teach comparative religion so that children learn about, and are tolerant of, different faiths; I do not believe they should be teaching from the point of view of one faith. Have we learnt nothing from the strife between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Shia and Sunni Muslims in the Middle East, Christians and Muslims elsewhere in the world? Religion should be taught at home, not at school.

(And the Schools Minister used the dreaded “going forward” phrase: “…we believe that using collaborative structures such as Umbrella Trusts will be important going forward.”)

Today’s picture

After that rant, I think you need a calm picture and, surprisingly, a religious one. Each afternoon at the Sera monastery in Tibet, the monks debate with their novices: they ask questions and there are formalised “yes” and “no” gestures for right or wrong answers. The monk standing on the left is giving a “yes” gesture.Image

 

 

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