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Thursday, 19 March 2009

Faiths’ hopes of parity – but at what cost?

If you ever wished to ponder on just what a “faith” cacophony we have in UK schools, you could do worse than read an article in today’s Independent.

It begins by referring to the headteacher in Sheffield, Yorkshire, who stopped Muslims from having their own separate religious assembly. And quite right, too.

Some teachers, as the Indie points out, use imagination to get over potential conflicts, while keeping their assemblies broadly Christian, as they are supposed to be by law.

But just how much effort in time and logistics could be saved by getting religion out of schools altogether, except as a subject of academic study?

It continues to amaze me that the authorities just don’t see it – or don’t want to see it. Are they just plain thick?

If a school assembly is there as a meeting for the whole school, so that staff can make announcements, pupils can feel a sense of community and both staff and pupils can do whatever else they get up to in assemblies (minus the religious mumbo-jumbo, that is), then surely that is so much the better.

“Not all schools have such harmonious relationships with parents,” says Steve McCormack’s article. “The Sheffield case is one example of a disagreement escalating seriously, but there are plenty of other cases where teachers are uneasy at the way Muslim parents try to influence what happens in school.”

Yes, they can be pushy and demanding:

Another teacher[,] from a secondary school in Essex, complains about the way that Islam, and other faiths, are allowed to intrude on school life. “Every year we see some 15- and 16-year-old girls just disappearing from school,” she says. “Everyone knows it is for arranged marriages. But no one makes a fuss. If they were from other families, we wouldn’t let it happen.”

Other parents insist their children can’t do anything active, or go on school trips, during the month of Ramadan, because they are fasting during day-time. “This isn’t good for their education, and I’ve tried explaining my understanding that it’s not compulsory under Islam for children to fast during Ramadan, but they won’t budge,” says the head of a primary school in outer London. “I get the impression that fasting is treated as a badge of honour by these children and their parents.”

But it’s not only Muslim parents who make life difficult for headteachers, says McCormack:

At a school near the outskirts of London, a head teacher recently found himself under intense pressure from parents of Sikh and Hindu pupils, because he allowed Muslim children to use a hut in the playground for prayers on Friday lunchtimes, under the supervision of a parent volunteer.

“When this news got out, some of the Sikh and Muslim parents were up in arms,” he says. “It had an incendiary effect. I was having people coming into school and talking to me for an hour about their unhappiness at this decision. They were very hostile, but I did not change my decision.”

My case rests. Religion is divisive, toxic and dangerous – or can be. Left to the home and the meeting house (be that a mosque, a church or a madrassa) it can then be contained, and its effects need not infect others against their will.

But, of course, we have to kowtow to all religions, and it’s our kids who are suffering. Do the authorities give a rat’s arsehole as long as cuddly “faith” gets its way? Do they hell!

1 comment:

Richard T said...

I think the reason why the authorities don't act on religion in education is cowardice. They don't want to upset the vociferous minority across all religions by curbing the spread of superstition in schools. This is doubly so in Scotand where the Catholics have resisted even sharing the same facilities as non denominational schools and yet they have the temerity to whine about the persistence of sectarianism in Scotland.

No politician in office has yet had the courage to face up to the bigots and say we will have a secular education system; we will nationalise the religious schools and allow no minister, priest, iman or whatever past a school gate unless they come as an individual parent.