Why do we still have faith schools in the UK?

by TerriRexson

Why do we still have faith schools in the UK. This system divides communities and encourages parents to pretend to be religious to get their children into the best schools.

Faith Schools in the UK

In the UK many primary schools are faith schools. That is, they are run in association with a particular religion, typically Church of England (or Wales etc) or Catholic. 

These schools promote a religious ethos and take religious teaching more seriously than non-faith schools. 

Note that in the UK there are no state secular schools. All state schools are by law required to teach religious doctrine. It's just that faith schools have more religion than non-faith schools. 

What are Faith Schools

A faith school is a British school teaching a general curriculum, but which has a particular religious character or has formal links with a religious organisation. It is distinct from an institution mainly or wholly teaching religion and related subjects. The term was introduced in ...

"Collective Worship" and school assemblies: your rights
Explains that in community schools, collective worship must be of a broadly Christian nature unless the school gets an exception due to the family background of the pupils, in which case alternative worship must be provided (e.g. there are some multi-faith schools in London).

Faith Schools: Just Say No!
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Faith Schools are Often Better

Faith schools are often the better schools in an area. I've got first-hand experience of why this is the case. Parents who care about their children's education feel obligated to get them into a religious school. 

We have three local primary schools. One is Catholic, one is C of E and the other is non-faith. The religious schools have better reputations. I have lots of friends and acquaintances who have suddenly found religion when they became parents. It's understandable, you want to do the best for your children. How bad could it be to go to church on Sunday and listen to a dull sermon and make a small donation. It's much cheaper than a private school. 

My son will be starting primary school this September. I've had a very well-meaning friend emailing me to encourage me to try and get my son into one of the religious schools to avoid the rougher elements at the non-faith school. This is the default school for parents who don't have the foresight or knowledge to get religious when their children are small. Plus a number of idealogists like myself and my friend who thinks it's important for her son to go to a local school and be part of the community. 

I should point out that the local non-faith school seems pretty amazing to me. I grew up in a much poorer area and the facilities at the school look excellent to me. 

The religious schools have a reputation of being academically successful but very cold towards parents of the wrong flavor religion or no religion. 

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Why we haven't Found Religion

So why haven't we found religion to get our son into a better school? As I've said, it's not as though the less good school is non-religious - it still has to promote Christianity. 

We certainly don't like the hypocrisy of pretending to be religious when we're not so that's not an option. However the schools do take some non-religious pupils. We could have tried to get our son in anyway. 

But, we really don't like the idea of our son being taught science and religion by the same people. How confusing is that? Science teaches you to use the scientific method and evaluate the evidence. As non-believers we apply the same approach to religion and find it lacking. I don't like the idea of a teacher in a position of influence telling my son that there is a god as if it's a fact. I could get over this, I went to a C of E school and I turned out alright ;-)

I object to the existence of religious schools. They divide the community. My son won't get to go to school with some of his good preschool friends who live locally because their parents want them to go to a religious school. I think this is a real shame. Some of his friends are going to the non-faith school so we can't win either way. Wouldn't it have been nice if they could all have gone to their local school together? I don't want to support this divisive approach to schools. 

Also, my older son is very literal and scientific minded. He's 4.5 and we haven't needed to discuss religion with him yet. Once religion comes onto his radar, which would certainly happen big time at a religious school, he's going to ask lots of great questions. We'll encourage him to think for himself but will share our views with him. I worry that he would share these views at school and this would cause problems. People don't like children who tell their kids that their parents don't believe in god. I hate to think what the Catholic kids would tell him, and he's a sensitive kid. He doesn't need that.

We won't be opting him out of religious assemblies or religious education at the non-faith school either. We don't want him to be different. Different, ha! Hardly anyone is genuinely religious in the UK. But withdrawing him would set him apart.  

I just wish this wasn't an issue and that religion (or not) was something that was left to parents and Sunday schools. I don't think faith schools have a place in modern UK society. 

Are we doing the right thing sending our son to a non-faith school?

Even though its reputation is less good than the religious schools
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T_Harmon_Art on 09/03/2011

Yes, you are. You have to be an example to your children by showing them that despite being "singled out" as non-religious and thus possibly coming across negative reactions by others, one must stand up for what they believe and not be bullied. This is true of religion or any other choices we make in life.

TerriRexson on 06/27/2011

We're happy to put in extra effort to help the local school and it's still a good school. It seems like a much friendlier school too.

Note to the Religious

I hope I haven't caused offense. I know that in the US particularly religion is pretty prevalent and commonplace. I'm a humanist and don't understand this at all. But I do respect your right to believe. I hope you respect my right not to believe. 

Updated: 09/02/2011, TerriRexson
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Your views on Faith Schools in the UK

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T_Harmon_Art on 09/03/2011

I was not aware that the UK mandates religion being taught in all schools. This really comes as a shock to me, Here in the US we have many who don't like that religion is not taught in public schools as they want to promote their beliefs in an environment that is not appropriate. I always felt very awkward, however, when I was a kid as we had to say the Pledge of Allegiance (which has the line "Under God") every morning in class. I respect others' religion, but they just don't get it that my non-belief is never respected. There is a place and time for everything, and as soon as everyone really understands this, we can all get along so much better and move forward as human beings.

TerriRexson on 07/15/2011

Thanks Jimmie. I've added a link and a bit more detail on the nature of the worship required. The law states that it must be of a broadly Christian nature most of the time unless an exemption is sought - e.g. there are some multi-faith schools in London.

In England it would normally be Church of England which is a very diluted Christianity compared to the American version. I'm not sure how strictly the rules are followed, I'm about to find out for my local school.

On the science point, it does make me uncomfortable. One one hand you are saying how important it is to have good evidence for your views, or the other you are told to take things on faith. These views do seem incompatible to me though I agree that some scientists hold religious views. I don't think pointing to the past on this is fair though, you didn't have much choice but to be religious in public, and in a different time I would probably have been deeply religious, maybe I'd be religious now if I'd grown up in the US, the culture around you has a very deep effect and it's hard to go against the majority.

Jimmie on 07/14/2011

Thanks for the disclaimer. (You absolutely have a right to not believe. I respect that totally. I consider it a foundation of American freedom.)

I'm sort of flabbergasted by this information. (American here.) Our public schools are strictly secular. You say that state schools have to teach religious doctrine. Wow. What religion? What doctrine of that religion? There are just so many. I can't imagine how a school could teach them ALL or choose which to teach. I am filled with questions about that statement.

I don't think it's a good idea to pretend to be something you are not simply for financial or educational benefit. So I applaud your not sending your children to Christian schools.

As far as the same teachers teaching religion and science, I see no contradiction at all. Most of the great men of science were also men of faith. Science and religion are NOT at odds despite what the New Atheists would have us to believe.

TerriRexson on 07/14/2011

Thanks so much for sharing your experience Prospero.
Since I wrote this I've visited the school a couple of times and met more of the other parents. Interestingly several of them expressed similar views to my own which is reassuring.
And the school has just reported very good academic results too, even more of an achievement when you know that the intake includes less advantaged children.
Now I just need to work out what to do when he comes home after a religious assembly asking who this god bloke is ...

Prospero on 07/14/2011

I'm a failed Humanist, but then again I'm a failed Christian too. I was raised C of E in the North-East of England, but I married a Catholic in a Catholic Church. The priest asked me to do everything in my power to raise my kids as Catholics. I didn't have any at the time, but I heeded his words and respected them. My wife and I were fairly laissez-faire, so we raised three children at the best school in West London over the years, and I had to swallow some home truths, and be a more active churchgoer. Perhaps I was mercenary, but I knew that if I got one in the rest would follow, and in my opinion they got the best education. Over a period of twenty years I saw three children go through primary and secondary catholic education. That's a long time, and there were times I thought it would never end. That's what happens when you have kids with age ranges of three and five years between them. It's a commitment. I started when one was five in 1986, and finished when the youngest was sixteen in 2005.
They got a great education, (or at least they had access to it) but I'm not sure if they turned out any different than if we'd sent them elsewhere. I'm not sure if things have changed, but during those years we regularly had to pay diocese fees, and they were significant over the years.
Your page reflects my own feelings, and if I had my time over I would not have been so vigorous on giving them that Catholic education. They are all adults now, and I suspect they have rejected all that their faith school attempted to ingratiate - just as I expected. Are they better people because of it? Well - they never got into trouble, never took drugs, never took to alcohol, never were disrespectful to their elders, (other than general adolescent posturing) but they were still bloody difficult.

Personally, I think they will not send their own children to a faith school. I think they lived through it and rejected it. I think that diversity, free from religious hang ups, combined with a solid curriculum which respects all cultures is the way forward. Sadly, this is idealism yet to be realised. The facts are that culturally the UK is becoming ever more individually secular. Neither governments nor teachers can address this without the unanimous support of parents. If the parents are culturally poles apart, then your words of wisdom, commendable as they are, will be difficult to implement.

TerriRexson on 06/28/2011

Thanks very much for taking the time to comment. If this doesn't work out then maybe we'll consider homeschooling but at this point I do think school has a lot to offer. I'm just at the beginning of this though.

tandemonimom on 06/27/2011

I had no idea this system prevailed in the UK nor that there were publicly funded faith schools. Interesting dilemma but as a homeschooler I have little advice for you.

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