Anushka Asthana reports in the Observer that senior government officials have blocked attempts to create the first school without an act of collective worship branding it a ‘political impossibility’.
“Dr Paul Kelley, head of Monkseaton High School in Tyneside – the first to join the government’s flagship ‘trust school‘ scheme – wanted to challenge the legal requirement in all state schools for pupils to take part in a daily act of worship of a broadly Christian nature. There are only a handful of exceptions at faith schools where the daily worship can be based on a different religion.
He also wanted to change the way that religious education was taught, introducing tuition about a number of world views, some that involved faith and some that did not. He intended to follow a ‘third way’ that neither banished religion from the classroom completely nor had children attending daily worship.
According to the Observer “One senior figure at the then Department for Education and Skills, told Kelley that bishops in the House of Lords and ministers would block the plans.”
Although many schools are not classified as being of religious character, if they do not carry out the daily act of worship they lose points during inspections by Ofsted. Kelley is now hoping that other schools might join his campaign.
The third way
The concept of a third way is potentially a helpful one that could aleviate some fears that secularists want to remove all mention of religion in schools. Instead it is important that such mentions are as honest as possible (showing ther good and the bad) and as unbiased as possible. As hard as it is to be completely unbiased either personally or institutionally, some approaches can ensure balance easier than others.
Of course although they might not say it so blatantly, many people are quite determined for the bias to remain on the grounds of ‘majority rules’ or historical continuity. As the Observer reports, the Church of England’s take on Kelly’s efforts was that “either overtly or by default, this country is still a Christian one.”
The Rev Jim Canning, of St Paul’s Church, Foleshill, has called for a multifaith school to be set up to promote integration in the community. “But rather than running schools separately why not give us the opportunity to run one together? It’s possible for Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Christians to live together in extraordinary friendship as we have proved in Foleshill.”
A Foleshill school’s catchment area will be larger than Foleshill but is it worth pointing out that living in Foleshil in 2001 were:
- 5,886 Christians
- 4,768 Muslims
- 2,111 Sikhs
- 1,779 people of no religion
- 1,336 Hindus
- 63 people from other religions
- 32 Buddhists
- 3 Jews
- 1,990 people who did not give their religion
So where would a Sikh/ Hindu/ Muslim/ Christian school leave the 21% of residents that are not of these faiths? Is their exclusion an acceptable price to pay for the cohesion of the four main faiths in the area? I assume that pupils in this hypothetical school would only take part in the collective worship of their own faith and that their lessons would not teach that all four faiths are all equally true so what do they see as the advantage over a neutral school that included 100% beliefs? Is it just that children would learn that at least one religion is true? Any one?