Monday 14 February 2011

Faith schools: suffer the little children — and they do

The BBC Radio 4 programme Beyond Belief is a mixed bag. Each week Ernie Rae speaks with studio guests and includes a pre-recorded report or interview. I've mentioned a few previously on this blog. Often the subject matter is of only marginal interest to me but this afternoon's edition was about faith schools, featuring the Rev Janina Ainsworth — Church of England Chief Education Officer, Ibrahim Hewitt — former head of Al-Aqsa Primary School in Leicester and now an inspector of faith schools, and Andrew Copson — Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association.

The programme is available as a podcast, and this week's edition is downloadable as mp3 audio here:

Janina Ainsworth seemed convinced that faith schools were inherently a "good thing", while Ibrahim Hewitt's views were all over the place. I particularly liked Ernie Rae's question to him towards the end of the broadcast, as to how probability is taught during maths lessons in a Muslim school. Apparently the children are told that there's no such thing as chance: if you throw dice, the results are not random but willed by God.

During the entire discussion Andrew Copson had the firmest grasp on the issues, seeing through the equivocation and appeals to emotion of the other two guests. I suspect that even Ernie Rae has serious doubts about the validity of faith schools. Given his introduction at the start of the broadcast, I don't think he was merely playing devil's advocate here.

But the most telling point in the programme was a recorded interview with Peter Flack, assistant secretary of the Leicester National Union of Teachers, who believes faith schools are a danger to society. He asked:
"What is so different about children who come from families with religious beliefs, that they need to be educated separately, that they need to be segregated from everybody else?"
Later in the day we had a perfect illustration of the danger Peter Flack warns about. Channel Four's Dispatches: Lessons in Hate and Violence, presented by Tazeen Ahmad and broadcast at 8 pm (with a repeat at 2:40 am), showed precisely what can happen to children if they are left in the clutches of faith-based education. We're not talking only of incitement to violence — these children (some as young as six) were being repeatedly hit. The violence was recorded as part of Dispatches' trademark "secret filming". What's worse, the featured establishments had been inspected and passed as fit places for young children to be "instructed".

A trailer clip of the programme is available here:

Those in favour of faith-based education often speak of it enabling children to become part of the community. The evidence suggests, however, that the "community" of which they speak is a narrow one, deliberately segregated from the wider society into which it ought to be integrated.