Faith Schools: inspiration or indoctrination?

Sunday 31 October, 3.45pm until 5.15pm, Café

Faith schools - whether you love them as bastions of a traditional education and discipline or loathe them as peddlers of homophobia and sexism - regularly occupy the headlines. Opponents call for their abolition in the name of multicultural integration rather than educational ghettoisation, equal access to state-funded institutions, and educational openness rather than indoctrination. Defenders of faith schools point to their excellent academic record, and argue that institutions must be free to set their own rules based on their beliefs, noting that the right of free association is not worth much without the right not to associate with some people. Should this argument be allowed to stand, however, when children are being taught values with which much of society now takes issue ? Such as that contraception is a sin or that women’s hair is an evil temptation?

Parents do ask, though, don’t they have a right to determine what kind of education their children should have? In what some see as an increasingly value-lite society, it might also be asked: just what’s so wrong with being brought up to believe in something? Are children really so deferential to adult authority that none of them will kick against the pricks? Even some humanists prefer overt religious doctrine, which young people can take or leave, to the apparently value-neutral but contentious messages often put forward in the secular curriculum, not least when it comes to the question of tolerance itself - and intolerance of intolerance.

But opponents protest that faith schools apparently get the best of both worlds: running costs covered by the state, but exemption from the obligation to treat everyone equally. Is it fair that faith schools are allowed to operate a form of selection, with middle-class parents feigning religious belief to shun the profanity of local comprehensives? Should we continue to tolerate faith schools? Do they have any place in a secular society?

Listen to session audio:


Andrew Copson
chief executive, British Humanist Association

Dr Evan Harris
campaigner for secularism in the public sphere; former science spokesman, Liberal Democrats; writer, Guardian Political Science blog

Ibrahim Lawson
headteacher, Al Risalah School; member, governing body, Association of Muslim Schools UK; researcher, Islamic schooling

Kevin Rooney
politics teacher and head of social science, Queen's School, Bushey; co-author, Who's Afraid Of The Easter Rising?

Dr Mark Taylor
vice principal, East London Science School; London convenor, IoI Education Forum

Produced by
Dr Mark Taylor vice principal, East London Science School; London convenor, IoI Education Forum
Recommended readings
A rather unchristian school admissions policy?

Four years as a governor in a church school converted Sharon Wright into a radical opponent of faith schools

Sharon Wright, Guardian, 21 September 2010

It is not “intolerant” to dispute the powers and the profusion of ‘faith’ schools

James Gray replies to Brendan O’Neil. Is it really “intolerant” to criticise ‘faith’ schools?

James Gray,, 25 August 2010

The weird fashion for bashing faith schools

Far from being factories of conformism, many faith schools turn out youngsters with high levels of BS immunity.

Brendan O'Neill, spiked, 23 August 2010

Jewish schools are not a faith school 'menace'

My local Jewish primary is multicultural and academically excellent, and shows Dawkins is wrong about faith schools

Karen Glazer, Guardian, 20 August 2010

Critics of faith schools won't acknowledge why they succeed

An accumulated wisdom lies at the heart of many faith schools

Dominic Lawson, Independent, 3 March 2010

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