Titled, Faith Schools: Freedom of Choice or Recipe for Division – Their Impact on Education and Wider Society, the consultation’s aim was to appraise the place of faith schools in religiously diverse societies, evaluating recent research and arguments both in favour and against their contribution to social cohesion. The consultation brought together leading scholars, policy makers and journalists on faith schools, advocates as well as critics of such schools.
Faith schools, or schools with religious character as they are officially called, are an integral part of the educational landscape in the UK. About a third of publicly funded schools are faith based schools, an overwhelming majority of which are Christian schools of various denominations. There are about 140 Muslim schools, of which nine are publicly funded.
The proponents of faith schools point to their reputation for academic success and consider it an alternative moral voice to the secular ethos in most state schools. Opponents see them as avenues for indoctrination and a mechanism creating socio-culture fragmentations. While the debate about faith schools can be traced back to the nineteenth century, it has acquired intensity and urgency in recent years due to several national and international events and trends.
Questions explored during the consultation included: What is the role of the faith school in contemporary Britain? What are the obligations to society of state-funded faith schools? Is there a clash of loyalties between religious interests and the national interest, or do they coincide? Are faith schools the best way of teaching religion? How effective are they compared to education in the home and religious classes/Sunday schools? Should faith schools benefit from the public purse? To what extent do such schools teach about other faiths and cultures? Are faith schools a democratic right or are we subscribing to educational apartheid?
These deliberations will lead to a set of recommendations to policy makers about the future direction of faith schools in the UK.
Coordinator, Planning & Academic Development
Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations