News 2011

Should there be faith-based schools in a pluralist society?

 Public Lecture by Professor Richard Pring

November 23, 2011

Britain has a long history of faith-based schools within the state system. However, there are increasingly powerful voices arguing against this for a variety of reasons.

On 23 November 2011, Professor Richard Pring, former Director of the Department of Educational Studies at Oxford University and Lead Director of the Nuffield Review of 14-19 Education and Training, gave a public lecture at AKU-ISMC entitled, “Should there be faith-based schools in a pluralist society?”

Professor Pring opened the discussion with a conversation about how schools in the UK are not government owned but are funded by the government through taxes. After the experiences of World War II, where the German government used the school system to indoctrinate its pupils, the English government felt the need to ensure that what was taught in schools was not controlled by the state. 

In England, there are various faith-based schools in existence, for example Catholic and Church of England schools, Islamic schools, as well as free schools. Professor Pring summarised several arguments made against and for faith-based schools.

First, the cohesiveness of society can be threatened by too much diversity and hence the need for common schools, sharing a ‘common’ culture. The second argument against faith-based schools is the government’s responsibility for equality within the admissions system; faith-based schools can sometimes have better educational results than public schools, which may be advantageous to those having preferred admission based on their religious beliefs. Thirdly, the National Secularist Society and the British Humanist Society argue that it is wrong to use the tax payers’ money to fund faith-based schools.

In support of faith-based schools, Professor Pring noted the importance of the state in supporting various traditions and the academic gains acquired by students from these schools.

There are many opposing views in the discussion about faith-based schools in the UK, ranging from full support to a complete rejection of the idea.

Perhaps what is critical, suggested Professor Pring, is that some aspects of schooling such as a control of the admissions systems, quality assurance and a distinctive vision of education should be applicable to all schools, including those that are faith-based. Professor Pring ended his lecture by emphasizing the need for a continued open discussion around faith-based schools and highlighted the idea that social cohesion needs diversity. 

Professor Richard Pring retired after 14 years as Director of the Department of Educational Studies at Oxford University in May 2003. Since 2003, he was Lead Director of the Nuffield Review of 14-19 Education and Training. This was a £1,000,000 six year project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

He continues to work with his Aga Khan University in Karachi, helping to develop and teach the doctoral programme within the Institute for Educational Development. For his work with the AKU over 15 years he received the Aga Khan University’s ‘Award of Distinction’ in 2007.

Since retiring Professor Pring has completed the following research projects in addition to the Nuffield Review: the evaluation of the Oxford Bursary Scheme with John Fox, a £125,000 project funded from Atlantic Philanthropies, and an evaluation of quality assurance in 11 Arab Universities, with a grant funding of £12,000 from the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme).

Ms Anne Czambor, Programme Administrator
Professional Programmes Unit