The Guardian and faith schools: for or against?

The Guardian’s Good Friday editorial (14 April 06), "Fight the Good Fight", exhorting religious liberals (Christian and other) to redouble their efforts against the fundamentalists while striving not to disown secularists and anti-religionists, goes into a curious contortion in seeking to define its attitude to faith schools:

…there are specific battles to fight, for example against the teaching of creationism, the extension (and the maintenance) of faith schools and the defence of free speech.

Er — what exactly is that all about?  The Guardian is evidently and predictably against the teaching of creationism, and may be presumed to be in favour of the defence of free speech, but how far does that ‘against’ stretch in the absence of an essential ‘and’?  Can it be that in a respectful nod to Good Friday, the Guardian is engaging in constructive ambiguity on the neuralgic subject of faith schools, striving not to antagonise either vaguely liberal Christians, rampant atheists, or bet-hedging agnostics who go to church in the hope of getting their young into the best of the local schools, places in which happen to be in the gift of the Vicar?

All the more peculiar when three pages earlier, the inimitable and indefatigable Polly Toynbee is inveighing eloquently against faith schools, on (one would have thought) absolutely impeccable grounds:

Ask most Labour MPs and they abhor the devious abuse of religious schools and the segregation they cause. It’s not "choice", since most parents would never choose faith schools if they were not the flag for assembling the better pupils locally. Baroness Morgan, until last year a close Blair ally as No 10’s director of government relations, spoke out boldly against religious schools in the Lords. (Note how everyone leaving No 10 suddenly speaks their mind – and it is rarely the mind of their leader.) ICM polling shows that 64% of voters think "the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind" – a surprisingly strong position. So what on earth is a Labour government up to – and why don’t Labour MPs refuse to let this happen?

Why indeed?  Why don’t Labour MPs rebel against a whole host of illiberal and reactionary policies constantly confronting them under New Labour’s increasingly unLabour rule?


3 Responses

  1. Brian- Creationism. I read the leader, and unusually it’s confusing. There can be no objection to the teaching in schools  of creationism or its updated brother Intelligent Design. But it should not be in a science class where its teaching presupposes equality  with evolution. It’s up there with flat earth-ism and voodoo.  

    Brian comments:  Thanks, Tony.  I understand that.  What isn’t however clear to me from the Guardian editorial is whether it is for or against "the extension (and the maintenance) of faith schools".  The sentence is so clumsily constructed that it’s impossible to disentangle the second of the three "battles" from what governs it, the battle against it or the battle for its defence ("the teaching of creationism, the extension (and the maintenance) of faith schools and the defence of free speech").  The Guardian is evidently against No 1 and in favour of No. 3:  but No. 2?  Impossible to tell.

  2. James says:

    Sorry to butt in on this, but I often browse this site, and wondered if you had any ideas about quite why faith schools tend to perform well.

    Brian writes:  James, please don’t apologise: contributing thoughts or questions here is always — well, nearly always — welcome, especially when it’s from a frequent browsing visitor like yourself.

    I think the general view is that ‘faith schools’ tend to perform well because they practise a form of selection by being allowed to use religious background and practices as a criterion for admitting a certain proportion of their pupils, and ambitious middle-class parents will tend to reinforce a faith school’s quality by giving it high priority in a bright child’s application list.  I was once told by a well-known vicar that the main reason for the crowded pews at his parish church was that parents were keen to get their clever children into one of his local Church of England schools and they reckoned that being seen by the vicar to attend his church regularly should help their chances of getting them in.  Most of them were never to be seen again near a church once the children had been accepted into the school. 

    Others, better informed, may be able to quote chapter and verse on this.

  3. James says:

    Right. But if a ‘faith school’ appears desirable to the ambitious middle-class parents who fake religious conviction, then this suggests that there is already a relation between high educational performance and the religious background and practices that are the basis of the selection exercised by the school. I find this surprising.