My old school only forced the occasional religious assembly upon us, but when they did it was done big style. It was said that the old woodwork teacher, Lionel Thomas, who shouted a lot while tolerating vicious bullying, was well into the laying on of hands. When pupils (sat quietly at the back) didn’t bow their heads in prayer he physically forced them into position while ranting that their actions denied him his right to worship and would condemn their schoolmates to eternal damnation. So that over 16s can now walk out of such rituals is very good news. And it’s thanks, in part, to an out of control faith school: St. Luke’s College, Sidcup.
Support for faith schools is a most bizarre and confused government policy, with no real effort made to argue a supporting case. Faith schools do have a reputation for being better (my parents tried to get my sister into one, but even though she sang in the church choir, the vicar vetoed the application) and, to be fair, at least one study has suggested faith schools get better GCSE results (‘The differential is not enormous,’ says the author). But is this small difference really the product of faith?
Deprived areas with failing schools up for conversion, tend to suffer parents who take little interest in their children’s education. Many kids arrive at school totally unprepared. Rather than hypothesise that faith is the magic ingredient, might it be that a parent who takes an interest in where their child goes to school is more likely to take a continued interest in their education? Might this higher level of parental interest account for faith schools’ slightly improved results?
More seriously, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) acknowledges concerns that faith schools deepen segregation, but fails to put the opposite view. In fact, the briefing to the education profession seems to argue that faith schools aren’t really that faithful, so not to worry. They have to admit pupils of other faiths and none if they have spare places and the DfES has a few carefully selected anecdotes where faith schools have admitted lots of others. (But hasn’t the eighty per cent Muslim Church of England school lost its faith?)
Other anecdotes tell another story. There’s the famous creationist school. And now a brand new faith school, St. Luke’s College, Sidcup, has fallen flat on its face. No inclusive admissions policy here, just kids wandering around playing fields with statues of the Virgin Mary and listening to evangelists when they should be in lessons.
UPDATE: A couple of years after this was written, St. Lukes failed and merged with a neighbouring school.