Faith schools and ‘cherry-picking’
He well remembers soaking these in vinegar all those years ago, drilling a hole, inserting a shoelace, and going into battle in the school playground. Cranmer was always proud of his conkers, and frequently reached the championship stakes of a ‘25-er’.
But all that was a very long time ago, and such pursuits are now, apparently, banned. Health and safety, you see. So many children lost eyes, limbs, or even their life playing conkers, that HM Government has outlawed the pursuit in its schools, and teachers enforce the regulations much more rigorously than they demand acquisition of the skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic. There are probably league tables for health and safety, in the Department for Children, Schools, Families and Nappy Changing if nowhere else, and headmasters and headmistresses the length and breadth of the land live in mortal fear of their school being named and shamed by the education Gestapo, because the children we are producing today belong to the state by which all things are made. They are programmed to exalt secularism, to conform to pluralism, and to laud relativism.
It is no wonder that standards are sinking into a morass of mediocrity. It is also no wonder that schools which have a faith dimension are somehow ‘better’. Oh, it’s awfully un-PC to say it, but it’s as plain as the nose upon one’s face. Faith schools are popular, over-subscribed, encourage the pursuit of excellence within a moral framework, and yield first class results. They are a credit to the country, a liberating beacon of light in the anally-retentive politically-restrictive education policies of all the political parties.
And now they stand accused of ‘cherry-picking’ the best children. Could it be, could it just possibly be, that the ‘best’ children have been nurtured in a faith environment? Could it be that they are more inclined to value hard work, respect authority, and pursue excellence because these are qualities that are pleasing to God?
It is heartening indeed that the Government is not seeking to eliminate them, as some teaching unions demand, but their expansion to include Muslim, Sikh and Hindu schools has caused more than a ripple among some commentators. Speaking at the launch of Faith in the System, Dr Mohamed Mukadam, chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools, said their schools ‘should be free to teach according to the tenets of their faith’. In response, The Daily Telegraph’s Holy Smoke blog goes so far as to suggest that all faith schools should be closed rather than permit the expansion of state-funded Muslim schools. Prominent Roman Catholic Damian Thompson declares: ‘I would rather every Anglican, Catholic and Jewish school in the country lost government funding than set up an Islamic state sector in education.’
This is reactionary nonsense and ill-considered hyperbole. Indeed, one might even call it ‘bigotry’. Of course there are concerns, as there are with some church schools and ‘the tenets of their faith’, but taken as a whole they are a force for good. While Damian Thompson talks of Muslim schools turning into madrassahs, he appears oblivious to the many Roman Catholic schools in which children have been emotionally terrorised and sexually abused by nuns and monks, who have been indoctrinated with ‘the truth’, all of which has had the life-long effect of causing them to repudiate utterly their faith and despise the Church. Cranmer knows many. Yet, taken as a whole, these schools are an undoubted force for good.
As long as the state is content to finance Jewish, Church of England, and Roman Catholic education, it is impossible to argue against it doing the same for Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. They are, after all, British tax-payers also, and (according to Conservative educational philosophy) these parents are fully entitled to bring up their children as they wish as they are the primary educators. There should not be, however, carte blanche granted for an unregulated curriculum. If nice Muslims parents want their nice children educated for the niceties of Shari'a law and Islamic culture, they should send them to a nice Muslim country like Pakistan. And there they should stay.
The solution must be to demand an absolute and unequivocal commitment by schools in receipt of public funding to underpin their educational philosophy with the principles of liberal democracy. There cannot be endless hours dedicated to reciting the Qur’an or learning Arabic, and neither should there be gender segregation in those areas of school life where there is no discernible educative benefit. And it is not ineffectual local education authorities which should oversee and ensure implementation of these policies, but a rigorous Ofsted regime, with the power to close schools which fail the test.
Closing excellent faith schools in order to prevent a few radical Islamic schools will deprive generations of children of all faiths of the opportunity of an excellent education based on moral principles, worship, and a greater awareness of God. It is wrong, quite utterly wrong, to undermine the Christian foundations of the educational structure of the United Kingdom simply because other faiths wish to acquire a slice of the cake. Church schools are a part of our heritage and culture, and must remain so. And rather like the process of natural selection in acquiring a championshp conker, schools should be able to select by aptitude and ability in order to ensure that children receive the best education for which they are suited. And if that is unacceptable, un-PC 'cherry-picking', then the nation is in desperate need of an educational philosophy which can expound the superlative qualities of a natural, juicy, ripe cherry over the disgusting, mass-produced, e-number-ridden, glazed specimens found on cheap trifle.