Friday, October 27, 2006

Filling infidel quotas

The government has backed down on requiring new faith schools to admit 25% from outside the faith, having extracted promises from Anglicans and Catholics that they will do it anyway. Muslims schools such as there are, are willing to join in too, although there is, as expected, little interest from non-Muslim parents.

Guido seems rather skeptical of the Catholic promise. And the small print seems to support him.

Vincent Nichols, the Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, said Mr Johnson understood it was "quite unacceptable to force into a new Catholic school 25% of people who were not particularly sympathetic to that faith".

Er, so why have you just promised to do exactly that? Is this just part of a face-saving formula for a government U-turn? Looks like it.

Tory spokesbod Nick Gibb adds that the Conservatives had always believed the faith school issue had been one "for schools themselves to decide". I guess he is forgetting his leader's speech that kicked this debate off by calling precisely for these new quotas.

Lets remember that we're only talking about new faith schools here. And this is at a time when the polls are suggesting majority opposition to any new faith schools on the grounds that they are divisive and bad for social cohesion. Some bright spark comes up with the quota idea to make these new faith schools more palateable, but even this modest suggestion offends Catholic preciousness - perhaps because non-Catholics might be using their toilets - and the Catholic church has enough muscle to get the government to drop it.

Lest we forget how modest this proposal is, what about the thousands of existing faith schools. Up and down the country we have doctors mowing vicarage lawns, teachers sweeping the church, professors of metallurgy polishing the candlesticks* so that they can get their children into the only local school that other middle class children go to. It is an outrage that clerics are given gatekeeper status to publicly funded services, and we should not be surprised that these are the consequences. Whatever we think about the choice agenda, schools choosing pupils is not what we want.

(*OK I am making this up, but we have all heard the stories.)

Perhaps I have insufficient appreciation of what faith schools can do, and what I advocate is an assault on their essence and character. It is easily claimed, but I think such a claim needs some justification. Any school would be able to do well if it can select the pupils that it wants. If the essence is selection, it is no big deal.

And I find it difficult to credit a style of education that relies on children being already "sympathetic" to the subject. How many are sympathetic to mathematics, biology or geography? We can't teach you unless you already believe in (or are at least sympathetic to) calculus, evolution or plate tectonics?

My suspicion is that much Catholic education is simply too heavily Catholic to be at all appropriate for non-Catholic children to be subjected to. That there would be complaints about the stories of hellfire, about guilt manipulation, that the schools would have to suffer bad press or adapt. In which case, I would have to ask why we want to fund this sort of religious instruction out of taxes at all. If people want their children to fear hellfire and feel guilty about the death of Christ, can't they arrange this themselves? Shouldn't public money be focussed more on the sort of thing that we can all agree is useful for children to learn?


Update: Pickled Politics quotes Sarah Teather.

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