The more that I read about the situation in some, who knows how many, of the schools around the UK with regards to the influence of religious teachings, the more I become convinced that the relevant authorities have not and will not get a grip of the situation. And how can they, for not only do the inspectors themselves seem unable to navigate the ground between calling out the teaching of intolerant behaviour and insulting minority groups unnecessarily, but more pertinently, they are working in an environment that makes effective action almost impossible in any case.
The appropriate fear has of course been brought to the forefront of our minds by the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ scheme by hard line Muslims, who are allegedly attempting to infiltrate UK schools, specifically in Birmingham and Bradford that we know about, so that they can indoctrinate children with ‘extremist’ Islamic ideas.
But the real issue here is the very concept of faith schools. It matters not whether there actually is an organised plot to takeover schools because we do know for sure that children have been repeatedly segregated by gender. We know that the teaching of evolution is often ignored, instead replaced by a grab bag of creation myths. We know that sex education is likewise regularly completely omitted. We also know that some children have been taught that homosexuals should be killed and that women cannot refuse to have sex with their husbands.
Yet for weeks, months, years, successive Governments have been acting as if this is a difficult issue to resolve. In fact, it’s a little worse than that – the numbers of faith schools have increased year on year.
I will tell you what we can do. We can demand that every child has a fair chance in life. We can truly treat all cultures equally by insisting upon the same level of education for all, rather than the slightly insulting notion that learning by rote is ok for some people, but not others. Religion must be entirely removed from all schools and replaced with classes based on a modern understanding of morals & ethics. Sex education could easily be a part of this. As I’ve argued before our societies must teach children kindness, empathy, altruism and so on, with as much vigour as it teaches them mathematics. But alas, we are still in a world where most seem to believe that morals should be taught by the religious, whose institutions are doctrinally homophobic, misogynistic, anti-scientific and cruel to animals. What hope can be found there?
Last week Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, sought to move the conversation away from religion and the issue of faith schools by suggesting that the problem was a lack of “British values” being taught in schools. As if being nice is ‘British’. And of course, slyly insinuating that people behave badly because they are not British enough is just piling on more divisive rhetoric. I despair!