BBC: ‘Schools could offer Koran classes’
The National Union of Teachers said that schools ‘should allow imams, rabbis and priests to offer religious instruction to pupils in all state schools’ in order to ‘reunite divided communities’. While one may be incredulous at the union’s naïveté that the descending of sundry religious leaders upon some of the nation’s schools is the solution to ‘divided communities’, it is important to note that this union specified Islam, Judaism and Christianity. When the BBC first reported this story, they singled out ‘Koran classes’ in order to ruffle a few feathers. Later on in the day, the headline was changed to ‘Call to offer faith class choice’, though it is still possible to search for it under the original provocative headline.
But this story becomes a little more interesting when one reads that the NUT said parents ‘had a right to have specific schooling in their own faith, if that was what they wanted’.
This is curious, from a teaching union which calls for faith schools to be abolished because they allegedly ‘lead to community breakdown’. But the NUT’s General Secretary, Steve Sinnott, is persuaded that offering pupils some instruction in their own faith ‘could reduce the demand for faith schools’. This provision would be ‘over and above the religious education already included in the curriculum’, possibly an after-school provision, and would be ‘more than simple religious education’.
Indeed, Mr Sinnott, you are talking about religious instruction.
He continues: "There would be real benefits to all our communities and to youngsters if we can find a space for parents who are Roman Catholic, parents who are Church of England, parents who are Jewish, parents who are Muslim for them to have space for some religious instruction. In that way we could keep cohesion within communities."
And so schools ‘could have imams coming in or local rabbis or local priests’.
Cranmer wonders what world Mr Sinnott inhabits, because there are very many schools indeed which already have priests and pastors, imams and rabbis very much involved in their everyday life. The Church of England schools are never without the very active involvement of their local vicar, and it is a prerequisite in all Roman Catholic schools that its leadership is made up of practising members of the faith. It is not only Eton College which has Anglican, Roman Catholic and Muslim chaplains, but very many state schools actively reach out to their local religious leaders who are only too happy to involve themselves in this aspect of community life.
But Cranmer has a few questions for Mr Sinnott.
If a schoolteacher approaches a church group today, (s)he probably has a rough idea of what the church is about, be they Protestant or Roman Catholic. Schools may have no problem accommodating Protestant or Roman Catholic instruction, but how will they cope with the ‘extremists’ – the Plymouth Brethren, say, or Opus Dei? How does a school handle a request from Jehovah’s Witnesses? Since schools may not discriminate (under EU law) on the basis of religious adherence, they will be legally bound to provide such extra-curricular instruction for all of their pupils’ diverse needs. And if they fail to do so, they may be open to legal challenge.
But while there may still be an awareness of the beliefs of the mainstream Christian denominations, how many teachers today have any idea of the Muslim groups? When a school asks for an imam to visit them on a regular basis to deliver religious instruction, how are teachers going to really know whether their visitors are moderate Sufis or Barelwis, or extremist Wahhabis or Salafists? Will the teachers enquire about the financing of these imams, just in case it comes from Saudi Arabia? And who will ask if they have links with foreign organisations such as the extremist Muslim Brotherhood or Jamaat-e-Islami, both of which are highly influential in the Muslim Council of Britain?
And who will monitor what the children are being taught? Will there be an unequivocal equality among the genders or respect for sexual diversity? Who will oversee this aspect of the curriculum, and who will determine what is acceptable and what is not? Will female imams be permitted, along with female priests and rabbis? And why does this teaching union completely ignore Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists?
Doubtless all those who will offer ‘Koran classes’ will profess to be ‘moderates’, but even the likes of Tariq Ramadan are lionised at Oxford while considered extreme in France. Of course there will be genuinely sincere and ‘moderate’ imams, but accurate recognition is difficult. And we are talking about our children, and their future, so there is no opportunity for a school to make mistakes.
But the NUT offers no guidance on its policy; simply that school ought to start offering extra-curricular religious instruction, and suggests that the religious leaders ought to provide it. And these leaders might well ask why they should submit themselves to sex-offender checks to assess their suitability for working with children, and why they should bother with such an inefficient, time-consuming and largely fruitless pursuit, when it is a whole lot easier to provide children with the instruction that their parents request by establishing faith schools.
The NUT ought to realise that its views are repugnant to people of all faiths, and unfathomable to many parents who simply want their children brought up within a moral framework of faith and where they will achieve good results and learn how to be rounded, respectful, considerate, and wise. Education is not simply about results; it is about values, character, social and mutual responsibility, duty and compassion - all the ingredients which, together with curriculum and teaching, go to make up the 'ethos' of a school.
Religion does not simply ‘slot in’ conveniently to suit the secular agenda of a trade union; it is all-encompassing and seeks to propagate values as well as standards. When faith is integrated into the whole life of a school, there is a richness in the study of moral, social, spiritual and religious issues which can never be found in the secular, for the one involves God, and the other does not.
Unless, that is, one can find a god who is content to be slotted in at one’s convenience, and who is utterly conformable to the fore-ordained agenda of state education, and with whom the NUT shall be well pleased.