Having examined the case for faith schools, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are very likely to be counter to individual rights, and very possibly harmful to both the individual and greater society:
- The autonomy of the child is of primary importance. The Humanist Philosophers’ Group sums it up with: “in a free and open society, beliefs about fundamental religious and value commitments should be adopted autonomously and voluntarily.”
- It is highly unlikely that faith schools would be capable of providing a balanced environment in which children of all faiths, or none, can make their own decisions based on full information.
- Segregation of children based upon religious belief is extremely undesirable.
- There are alternative methods of education, which should be acceptable to people both religious and non-religious, that protect the autonomy of the child and do not involve segregation of religious groups.
I have tried to read widely on the different viewpoints regarding faith schools, but admit that many of my arguments are pretty much directly those of the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society. This is because I actually agree with them, and I have tried to question assumptions and to check sources. Obviously I have pre-existing biases – I’m a paid-up member of both organisations – but I have tried to understand all the viewpoints. In fact, when I first read the BHA’s proposals for an alternative education system I was quite taken aback, and it took me a while to understand why it was reasonable.
The BHA website, and their A Better Way Forward in particular, has far more detailed analysis of other issues and objections, including the ‘rights of the community’, the selection bias of current Church schools, the current state of religious education policy and the role of the state in religious activity. I also recommend the Education Bill itself and the unfortunately not-available-online Humanist Philosopher’s Group pamphlet on religious schools in general.
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