It would be safe to assume that, whatever your religious beliefs, Britain has managed to keep it fairly neutral for us. With philosophy lessons, comprehensive science lessons covering all aspects of the curriculum, freedom of expression and so on, it’s reasonable to say that whatever you believe in, you’re going to be well catered-for.
After all, many students I’ve met are happy to understand and learn about different theories, even if they contradict their own religious beliefs (or in many cases, the lack of such beliefs.)
Religion has also long been a part of our school’s tradition. Personally, there was never anything that bothered me – I have always wondered about the presence of a God so never found it odd having to say grace before meals at junior school. I was always curious what would happen if someone disagreed with the notion but I never found that our until I was at another junior school, where one student was exempt from being in assemblies because of the hymns we sang.
Overall then… not too bad.
Recently though, some schools with a religious background seem to think they’re above the curriculum. Whilst it doesn’t represent every school out there, it is worrying what has come to light recently.
The Birmingham Schools controversy
Firstly, I should say that this matter is under investigation by the government and the Department for Education – the schools at the centre of this have either not commented or rejected the allegations brought forward.
Last month it emerged that several schools in Birmingham were under investigation after they were allegedly being targeted by a plot to oust headteachers. The plot was allegedly to install governors and bring about leadership changes to ensure that people with ‘sympathetic’ views towards Islam were placed in positions of power- allegedly through a trust that operates three of the schools in the investigation. The plot, named Operation Trojan Horse, has meant that 12 schools are currently under investigation, at the time of writing.
The plan was detailed in an anonymous letter and the authenticity is yet to be determined. The chairman of the trust involved – the Park View Education Trust – Mr Tahir Alam, as rejected the claims and say that this is nothing more than a ‘witch hunt.’
Even if the claims turn out to be false, it is certainly troubling to hear and is going to provoke an awful lot of strong opinions among different groups of people. There will be some that will consider the evidence and come to their own conclusions when the case has been concluded. However, I think there will be a lot of people concerned for the future, based merely on what has come to light in this case.
Indeed, David Cameron has gone on record saying that the government would not accept a school that was operating with ‘extremist’ views, so it would appear some people might be jumping to a few conclusions, whatever the outcome may be.
Personally, the idea of a Muslim set of schools doesn’t really bother me in the slightest. In a very multi-cultural country, it would only be reasonable to assume that groups of people wouldn’t mind their children growing up with a certain set of ideals that are reinforced in the school. However, that does make it rather tough on the other people in the area who might not share the same belief system. And of course, there are groups of people concerned about extremism. I’m not one of these people, but I can imagine there are a few who would look on this rather unfavourably.
The exam v religion controversy
This little gem of a story broke very recently and is certainly going to be more and more troubling for kids up and down the nation.
Recently there was a report that concluded that a Jewish school (Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School, Hackney) had censored questions in GCSE science papers so that the children could not answer questions on evolution. That’s right, it didn’t even become an optional question for students, they just weren’t allowed to answer them simply because they did not agree with the school’s religious teachings.
Now, I don’t want to get into a big debate on religion and the credibilities behind various faiths, but surely every child has a reasonable right to be able to understand alternative theories on life and other philosophical points?
OCR, who administered the exam, has said that it was tampering and should not happen – the exam regulator Ofqual has said that it is malpractice to do so. Good. Personally I think every child at school has a right to be reasonably well-balanced in their knowledge of other views and should not have to be ignorant because their school disagrees with the notion.
Indeed, the National Association for Orthodox Jewish Schools has said that they were seeking advice on what they call a ‘very concerning matter.’Removing questions from the papers is putting children at a significant disadvantage because something is a little disagreeable with the school – in my mind this is utter reprehensible. Why do it? It’s like deciding not to let kids learn English because you think another language is more acceptable. It’s utterly mindless in my view.
Overall, it is certainly troubling. I understand that one of these cases is under investigation (and so we have to tread lightly) but surely here we can see a possible clash between religion and education. Clearly, there is nothing wrong with a religious upbringing – I know many who have been brought up this way and are entirely happy – but I can’t see the benefit of it damaging an education. I know science v religion will always be a contentious issue, but surely the way forward is through tolerance rather than exclusion simply because it doesn’t fit an idealistic view.
Imagine what would have happen if the Birmingham case turned out to be true and there had been a genuine takeover. ‘Hard-line principals’ would have been introduced over time and then what? Would there be a total rejection of evolution and western economic study in the school?
By all means, keep religious. But please, let’s not let it get in the way of understanding, even if you don’t agree with it. Please people, be reasonable.