Madeleine Bunting put forward a case for faith schools in the Guardian today. Well, I think she did, her logic pretty well escaped me.
The claim in the title “Faith schools can best generate the common purpose that pupils need” wasn’t supported by any argument that I could follow. This seems to be the crux of it:
So, with hard hat on, here goes the defence: that it is possible to justify faith schools within the state sector with important qualifications; that many of them do a remarkable job; and that it’s time the critics put prejudice aside to think more carefully about the source of their appeal to parents.
Well, I’ve thought carefully and I believe I know the source of their appeal to parents – that is, parents who don’t actually follow the faiths that they are supposedly so keen to cram into their offspring:
They have a more exclusive intake. Christian religious schools don’t have many pupils who don’t speak fluent English. They can throw troublesome kids back to the state sector. They can often get better exam results.
That’s basically it.
I find it hard to draw a connection between these facts and “faith.” The old selective grammar schools – when selection was at least based on an exam pass rather than a belief in magical entities – got better results than the schools for kids who’d failed their 11-plus.
I thought the idea of doing away with grammar schools was to heal social divisions? “Middle class” kids were certainly over-represented in grammar schools. All the evidence suggests that they are currently over-represented in the popular faith schools. And there is no evidence of a massive expansion of religious belief amongst the middle classes that might explain it in religious terms. It’s people trying to get the best for their kids, whatever it takes. Perfectly understandable in individual pragmatic terms. Whether the state should be buying votes by supporting this with our taxes is another matter…..
But supporters of faith schools prefer to pretend that religion brings some educational magic of its own. Insofar as Bunting has an argument to present, it is that faith schools are better at putting across an educational ethos.
But these are old-fashioned ideas. Walk into any secondary school and one senses how counter-cultural that ethos is. The blazers, badges, Latin mottos, the “Morning, Sir,” the emphasis on tradition, formality and obedience: it’s an institutional culture decades old. Teachers have the unenviable task of battling against a culture of self-entitlement, individualism and self-promotion to try to generate a common purpose.
Hmm. Blazers, badges, Latin mottoes… and so on? Her concept of “education” comes straight from a 1940s boarding school story.
Some schools have genuine traditions. These are usually private and cost as much as the average annual wage. Their succes sis based upon the very fact that they cost the annual wage. (Beautiful grounds, incredible teacher-pupil ratios, coy relationships with Oxbridge colleges, other rich kids to make friends with for future networking…)
To build new schools and expect them to pretend they have been going since the middle ages – in the belief they’ll bring the benefits of Eton – is so ersatz. The whole enterprise seems to be built on misleading kids. Trick them into thinking they are attending Eton in the 1930s and they will behave themselves.
It’s a Disneyworld image of education. But, if anything, this could explain the appeal of faith schools. If enough fools believe it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, at the top end of the faith school pyramid (with lavish use of our taxes, of course.)
At the bottom end….. Catholic schools vs state school battles. Kids who leave school without ever sharing a classroom with kids from different backgrounds.
Secular humanism has not found a popular ethical narrative to replace faith; parents, uncertain how to bring up their children with a sense of responsibility for others, resort to school Christianity.
She is saying that parents who are without ethical values rely on church schools to graft these on, at the same time as imparting a belief in an all-powerful magic man? She is also implying that values rely on myths.
This is bilge in so many ways that I can’t even begin to address them. It is teaching hypocrisy by example. Great “ethical” value, hey? “Do as I say, not what I do.”
It doesn’t work, given that children are not necessarily either unobservant or so dumb that they will believe what adults tell them to be true over the evidence of their senses.