Faith in the future?

As 0-19 went to press, the government was due to publish its much-debated education bill. But whatever final concessions have to be made to win over Labour MPs, plans to give all schools the opportunity to become self-governing trust schools are certain to remain at the heart of the Prime Minister’s education reforms.

In practice, this means vast numbers of schools will join forces with business charities, faith groups and universities to have a greater say over how the schools are run and who they admit.

The government’s big idea is to allow all schools to mirror the “successful experience of academies”. But to say academies have already proven their worth is, at best, debatable. Many believe it is simply too soon to sing academies’ praises – let alone encourage all other schools to copy their approach – and that a proper evaluation needs to be completed of the value added to pupils’ educational experiences by sponsors, freedoms and expensive buildings.

One thing that has already become clear from the academy programme, however, is faith groups’ interest in having a piece of the action. Between a half and a third of academies already open or under development are backed by either a religious organisation or an individual with strong religious views.

The drive to massively increase the number of trust schools across the country can only lead to the role of faith groups in the running of state schools increasing.

But is this really the direction we should be taking at a time when we are striving to achieve a socially cohesive society? The reaction in England, as well as across the rest of the world, to the
publication of the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad illustrated just how close beneath the surface religious tensions bubble.

Allowing more schools to establish admissions policies that take account of religious persuasion and to develop overtly or covertly religious curricula can only lead to greater segregation and will do nothing to close the gap in educational attainment between society’s most privileged and most vulnerable children.

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