Banning faith schools is no quick fix to social segregation

Writing in the Conversation, Professor Tony Gallagher from Queen’s University Belfast says calls to ban faith schools are often understandable but aren’t the way to solve social segregation…

Back in 2001, riots broke out in northern cities in England sparked by ethnic tensions. The Cantle Report on the riots in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley claimed that ethnic communities there lived parallel and polarised lives: “These lives often do not seem to touch at any point, let alone overlap and promote any meaningful interchanges.” Ethnic segregation existed in schools, largely as a consequence of residential segregation or the admissions policy operated by some schools. This pattern was further exacerbated by government support at the time for single-faith schools.

Writing a few years later, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee described the growth of faith schools as: “among the most indelibly damaging of Tony Blair’s social legacies, his permanent bequest to his own beliefs”. Blair’s support for faith schools was largely based on the claim that they achieved higher performance outcomes for their pupils, but many worried that this opened the door to fundamentalist Christian influence.

Schools in the spotlight

Following the Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham schools in 2014, Ofsted, the school inspectorate, expressed concern that some private Muslim schools were failing to promote British values and protect their pupils.

In February, a school principal was forced to deny that three girls who left Britain to go to Syria were radicalised at school. In 2012, an Ofsted report on their school, the Bethnal Green Academy – which is not a faith school – found it to be outstanding on all measures, but noted that three quarters of its students did not have English as their first language and that the proportion of students from minority ethnic backgrounds was much higher than the national average.

Cost of segregation

Is it any wonder that many feel that faith schools should be banned altogether? This was the reaction from some groups at the publication of the latest report from the Social Integration Commission. It is the third report in a series that has examined the changing face of British society, looking particularly at the level of integration or segregation of people on the basis of age, ethnicity or social background. Previous reports highlighted that Britain is becoming an increasingly diverse society, but the level of engagement between members of different communities is not keeping pace. They have pointed to powerful evidence that segregation entails negative consequences and additional financial cost.

The section of the latest report on schools rings familiar alarm bells: the highest level of integration is found amongst the 18-35 age group, who are either more mobile, or in further or higher education. By contrast, levels of ethnic segregation are high among school-age children. Social and religious segregation is rising, aided in part by the current government’s commitment to free schools – state-funded schools that are outside of local authority control.

England is not alone in trying to find solutions to these problems – and there is no blueprint solution. While the 2001 riots in English cities were taken by some as a failure of a multicultural commitment to celebrate diverse identities, riots in the suburbs of Paris in 2005 were cited as evidence of the failure of the French commitment to social integration through the unitary and secular tradition of civic republicanism.

Public funding can be held to account

But banning faith schools is unlikely to be successful at reducing social segregation. Under current education law it would not be possible for a government to ban faith schools entirely. The right to establish and direct separate schools is contained in the Convention of the Rights of the Child, and the application of this in English law makes it permissible to establish independent schools, subject only to them meeting some basic educational standards. Faith schools could, however, be denied access to public funding, but this may have unexpected and undesirable outcomes.

If the concern with faith schools is that they become narrowly insular, then pushing them into the private sector only makes that outcome more likely. As long as faith schools receive public funding then they can be held to account for their admissions policy, curriculum and wider practice.

In all these respects the recommendations of the Social Integration Commission seem to be spot-on. It recommends that faith schools should be encouraged to provide more opportunities for their pupils to interact with children from different ethnic communities and income backgrounds, through partnerships, shared facilities or the co-location of schools.

It also recommends that religious education in faith schools should cover a diversity of faith traditions, and not take the form of religious instruction. The admissions code of practice should encourage each faith school to admit a mix of pupils which reflects local diversity and demography. Nor should they be restricted only to members of the faith community. And the school buildings themselves should become spaces for local community engagement.

A network of schools

We should not be afraid of institutional diversity, as long as the diverse elements are well connected to ensure that all boundaries are porous and all schools are places where generations and communities have opportunities to meet and learn from one another. Faith schools should be embraced as part of a diverse education system, but obliged to engage with as many others as possible.

Despite adopting fundamentally divergent policy approaches, Britain and France risk ending up with silo societies where too many communities live their lives apart. Rather than focus on individual schools, we should think of the school system as a network. In this way, we should be promoting networked solutions in which schools collaborate to connect pupils, teachers, parents and communities to the greatest extent possible. In such a connected world, diversity among the elements of the network will not be a problem and indeed may even be an advantage.

Read more articles from the Conversation

 

Read the report from the Social Integration Committee in full at: Kingdom United? Thirteen steps to tackle social segregation

 

Thoughts on Professor Gallagher’s arguments and his endorsement for the recommendations of the Social Integration Commission in terms of faith schools?

 

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Categories: Policy.

Comments

  1. FionaTipper

    SchoolsImprove religion shld only be taught as history of ideas and thinking. Whilst it’s taught as “truth” there’ll be dangerous division

  2. LaCatholicState

    SchoolsImprove Church schools are little Christian communities. Time spent with Christian friends in a Christian environment is precious

  3. LaCatholicState

    SchoolsImprove Church schools are little Christian communities. Time spent with Christian friends in a Christian environment is precious

  4. LaCatholicState

    FionaTipper SchoolsImprove Catholics want their kids to experience a Catholic community with co religionists….in a Catholic school.

  5. LaCatholicState

    SchoolsImprove It’s ironic…the more fragmented and diverse a society becomes….the more important religious and ethnic identity becomes

  6. Janet2

    There’s no need to ban faith schools.  But all state schools, faith or not, should be expected to admit all children and not prioritise on grounds of faith.  A faith school could keep its faith ethos (eg Catholic, CoE, Muslim etc), and this would lead to an element of self selection, but admission criteria which discriminate against children not of the faith or with no faith should not be allowed.

    All schools should ‘cover a diversity of faith traditions’ as recommended.  There should be no obligation for schools to provide ‘collective worship’ but this could be made available as an option with no compulsion to attend.

  7. VictoriaJaquiss

    SchoolsImprove Says banning faith schools not quick fix, drive em 2 private arms. Only if private ed/ academies stillpropped up by gov/Gove

  8. VictoriaJaquiss

    SchoolsImprove Says banning faith schools not quick fix, drive em 2 private arms. Only if private ed/ academies stillpropped up by gov/Gove

  9. Britinfloridaus

    The only reason why Bethnal Green academy have 3/4 of its school population speaking English as a second language. Is solely due to its intake is local children. It is not a sink school. Perhaps Ms Toynbee should visit the area before making such statements

  10. LaCatholicState

    Janet2  That would not be fair.  A Catholic school is primarily for Catholic children.  If extra places are available….then they can be given to non-Catholics.  But it wouldn’t be right to have Catholic children excluded.

    Also….we have to discuss the discrimination against Christian children and Christian beliefs that make parents reluctant to send their kids to secular state schools.

  11. Janet2

    LaCatholicState Janet2 I did not say faith children should be excluded from faith schools.  But these schools are state-funded and should not, therefore, decide which pupils are prioritised.  They should be open fairly to all children.

    The so-called ‘discrimination’ against Christian children and beliefs in secular (ie non faith-aligned) state schools is exaggerated.  Secular schools are happy to educate all children without favour (unless, of course, a religious group tries to take them over as happened in a few schools in Birmingham).

    Children who are secure in their faith have nothing to fear from being in contact with people of other faith or non-believers.

  12. LaCatholicState

    Janet2 LaCatholicState   These schools are funded by the people who send their kids to them.  The State has no money….only taxpayer’s money.  Don’t try to pull that trick again.

    There is subtle and not so subtle discrimination against Christian teachers and pupils at secular state schools.  This is one reason I have avoided them like the plague.  With happy consequences Im glad to say.

    If kids want to go to Catholic schools….then they should go to them.  And secularists who are secure in their secularism….won’t have reason to begrudge them.

  13. LaCatholicState

    Janet2 LaCatholicState   These schools are funded by the people who send their kids to them.  The State has no money….only taxpayer’s money.  Don’t try to pull that trick again.

    There is subtle and not so subtle discrimination against Christian teachers and pupils at secular state schools.  This is one reason I have avoided them like the plague.  With happy consequences Im glad to say.

    If kids want to go to Catholic schools….then they should go to them.  And secularists who are secure in their secularism….won’t have reason to begrudge them.

  14. GillespieAidan

    SchoolsImprove Faith Schools have never been shown to socially segregate (find me a study) this is another anecdotal & biased report

  15. ManciniCPsychol

    SchoolsImprove Why don’t we talk about social class segregation across cities, special schools, & where entry selection by ability exists?

  16. GillespieAidan

    mm684 SchoolsImprove of course I have and not only that the Uni of Glasgow did an expansive study this year which explains this, read it

  17. Janet2

    LaCatholicState Janet2 Taxpayers’ money goes into a pot from which all benefit (eg infra structure, hospitals, schools etc).  It’s a little selfish to say that your money should only be spent on what you want.  I might want a school which prioritises, say, Scientologists.  But I shouldn’t expect taxpayers to fund the bill in order to keep my children separate from other children.

    I’ve no objection to Catholic ethos schools (or CoE, Muslim, Hindu ethos).  Parents would know this and could choose accordingly.  But as recipients of taxpayers’ money they should not discriminate against children of certain taxpayers.  Christian school in particular should recognise this:

    ‘Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not.’

    As you have avoided ‘secular state schools’ (ie those not aligned to a faith), then you have no experience of them.  Your opinion is based on prejudice.

  18. Britinfloridaus

    Janet2 LaCatholicState It should also be borne in mind that most Catholic School buildings and land are owned by the Church and not the State.  Even if they are not , all voluntary aided school have to find 10% towards any improvements or additional buildings.  That does make a big difference between a faith school and a maintained school.  Many Catholic Schools are also governed by Trust Deeds, which make it more than clear that the school is for the education of Catholic Children.  I recall Tony Blair wanted to introduce a 25% non faith criteria in all faith schools, but backed down due to advice from the civil service.  Church of England schools are different.  many go back before 1870 state education and were built to provide for the needy of the parish, hence they usually have a set number of non Anglican child.  In fact in many parts of the country, CofE schools have 80% Muslims attending.

  19. Janet2

    Britinfloridaus Janet2 LaCatholicState Thanks for stating the legalities.  If VA faith schools were required to treat all children fairly regardless of faith, then the 10% requirement for spending on buildings etc should be scrapped.

    Interesting point re Trust Deeds.  If RC schools have Trusts which state the school is for RC children only, does it follow that if the school doesn’t attract enough RC children then it would NOT accept any other child?  This is not likely as it would result in decreased funding.

    I’m sure Trusts could be amended.  Are there examples of, say, Trust schools which were initially set up just for boys which are now co-ed?

    You’re right about CoE schools although it’s more likely you’re talking about Voluntary Controlled ones which take whoever the LA sends to them..VA schools can devise their own admission criteria which can be discriminatory.

  20. Janet2

    Britinfloridaus Janet2 LaCatholicState Thanks for stating the legalities.  If VA faith schools were required to treat all children fairly regardless of faith, then the 10% requirement for spending on buildings etc should be scrapped.

    Interesting point re Trust Deeds.  If RC schools have Trusts which state the school is for RC children only, does it follow that if the school doesn’t attract enough RC children then it would NOT accept any other child?  This is not likely as it would result in decreased funding.

    I’m sure Trusts could be amended.  Are there examples of, say, Trust schools which were initially set up just for boys which are now co-ed?

    You’re right about CoE schools although it’s more likely you’re talking about Voluntary Controlled ones which take whoever the LA sends to them..VA schools can devise their own admission criteria which can be discriminatory.

  21. Britinfloridaus

    I doubt if any school that owns its own buildings would sell them to the state. That is if the state could afford them. In fact some academies became a foundation school first to get the land and the buildings. Whereas academies are only leased land and buildings. I don’t know of any Catholic voluntary controlled schools. CofE schools vary between dioceses Rochester has mainly controlled schools whereas Southwark is the other way around. An example of a VA CofE school that is mainly non Christian is Sir john Cass in Tower hamlets. This is a high achieving school where the intakes reflects the local population

  22. Janet2

    Britinfloridaus I wasn’t suggesting the state take the assets.  But in the case of Trust schools they’ve been happy to take the state’s money in order to provide education albeit primarily for those given priority.  There’s no reason why this should not continue if they were required to treat all children equally.

    If Christian schools really are Christian then they should follow Christ’s teaching (I know, I’ve said this before): ‘Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not.’

    That surely means treating all children fairly and not prioritising one type of child over another.

  23. Janet2

    Britinfloridaus I wasn’t suggesting the state take the assets.  But in the case of Trust schools they’ve been happy to take the state’s money in order to provide education albeit primarily for those given priority.  There’s no reason why this should not continue if they were required to treat all children equally.

    If Christian schools really are Christian then they should follow Christ’s teaching (I know, I’ve said this before): ‘Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not.’

    That surely means treating all children fairly and not prioritising one type of child over another.

  24. Britinfloridaus

    But that fails to take into account why the Catholic church set up their schools in the first place. If a catholic or any other faith school is undersucribed they cannot refuse to admit children of other faiths or none.

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