Thursday, 19 August 2010

Faith School Menace?

Last evening I tuned in to watch Richard Dawkins's programme Faith School Menace? on More4. As ever, the self-appointed Archpriest of Atheism came across as smug, ill-informed and, frankly, unpleasant in the face of a popular, respected, government-backed, time-honoured, successful British institution. For the guts to attack such an institution, Dawkins should at least be credited, but it may not surprise you to find out that I think his entire thesis fundamentally flawed.

Dawkins's line was that 2/3rds of UK Primary Schools are now Faith Schools - in that they can 'discriminate' on grounds of faith, and that they can formulate their own syllabus for Religious Education. This, he claims, is an accident of history: a hang-over from a 1960s policy when the Church of England was contributing towards the cost of such schools. Dawkins further claims that the last government, under Tony Blair and with Charles Clarke in Education, 'went the wrong way' by establishing Faith Schools of other faiths, rather than reigning-in the entire project and calling it a day.

Charles Clarke made a weak but fair plea that this New Labour initiative sought to redress the balance of Christian-only Faith Schools, but admitted that he was, himself, a convert (I know!) to the concept of Faith Schools. Clarke went on to state that his main reason for strengthening the position of Faith Schools was based on a fear of voting reprisals should they be abolished.

Dawkins sought out every expert he could to explain why Faith Schools seem to do better than non-Faith Schools - apparently this is due to pushy parents, not excellent teachers, better facilities or a safer and more productive working environment. I'd like to see him make such a statement in the Staff Room of any Faith School.

Furthermore, he went on to assist the claim (with the help of a couple of parents) that the Catholic Church is happy to accept bribes - albeit in the form of donations for 'the church roof' - and that the Church of England does nothing to discourage non-believers from converting for the sake of their children's education. Both of these claims are scandalous. The fact that Prof. Dawkins had to make it very clear that the clergy in question denied all such accusations and that the process under scrutiny was, in fact, independent of the parish or church in question, merely goes to show how weak and petty his argument is. It is, however, a sad fact that the portrayal of his thesis went pretty well unharmed by this information.

There is little point in challenging Dawkins's views on Faith Schools. They are widely published (endlessly so, in fact) by him and atheist organizations. What I would like to do, however, is to salute the work of those who - despite this man's efforts - make the education of our children better, stronger, and more closely orientated towards a life with Jesus Christ. The facts and figures prove that Faith Schools are an important part of the life of British culture and society and that they contribute to a flourishing and succesful sector of the education of children. Furthermore, those non-Faith Schools that open their doors to faith leaders are truly giving their children the chance to make their own decisions. So, to them too we offer our thanks and support in the face of Dawkins's critique.

Richard Dawkins is a member of the University of Oxford: an establishment founded for the training of Catholic priests. He also went to Oundle School, an Anglican public school. If such institutions can produce the likes of him how can he possibly want to abolish them, unless...?


Kentish Man said...

Richard Dawkins - roughly as good at theology as the pictured nun is likely to be at football

Marty said...

Richard Dawkins was reasonable and polite, not at all smug; in a sense the arguments for faith schools because they have "better" results than state schools are similar to those around private education; often better resources, more motivated staff and less challenging pupils. You cannot surely argue against, as he once again demonstrated so effectively at the end, the old jesuit mantra of "give me the child and i will show you the man". And as christians have exploited young peoples natural curiosity with simple, tidy answers, so are muslim faith schools exploiting their charges, again brilliantly demonstrated by his silence when one of the young women acknowledged her desire to become a doctor whilst denying scientific fact. Very revealing, and rather scary exposition of our divided society.