Lloyd Evans

Spectator Debate: ‘Taxpayers’ money should not fund faith schools

Ninja Turtles were the first witnesses at last week’s Spectator debate.

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Ninja Turtles were the first witnesses at last week’s Spectator debate.

Ninja Turtles were the first witnesses at last week’s Spectator debate. Proposing the motion ‘Taxpayers’ money should not fund faith schools’, the Sunday Times columnist Minette Marrin said that the child of a friend had been denounced as ‘satanic’ at his Christian school for wearing Ninja-branded pyjamas. Religious schools, she went on, led to ghettoisation and contempt for the host culture. Three Islamic schools in the UK require girls to wear the full veil, and they boast that they ‘oppose the lifestyle of the West’.

Cristina Odone, former editor of the Catholic Herald, trumpeted the success of faith schools. A newspaper survey confirmed that two thirds of top primaries had a strong religious element. She begged her opponents to ‘spend more time fixing your schools, not wrecking ours’.

Dr Jonathan Romain, a progressive rabbi from the Maidenhead synagogue, accused faith schools of ‘pulling Jews and Christians out of the rest of society’. Department of Education figures indicated that faith schools were ‘the most likely not to comply with the admissions code’. Even when faith schools teach comparative religion they get it wrong. He cited a Catholic school which taught comparative religion in ‘heresy class’. Though a Jew, he sent his children to a community school where they could ‘sit next to a Christian, hang out with a Hindu, play football with a Muslim and go home with an atheist’. It’s great to love your neighbour, he said, but you can’t love him if you don’t know him.

The Bishop of Nottingham, Malcolm McMahon, set out his egalitarian principles by quoting Cardinal Manning at the time of the 1870 education act. ‘It is every man’s right to have his child educated according to his conscience. And the cost should not be greater than for his neighbour.’ The Bishop denied Rabbi Romain’s allegation that church schools are insular and selective. Church schools not only fostered ‘a moral centre’, they contributed towards the building work. A recently completed school in Nottingham received 10 per cent of its £25 million budget from the Church. ‘This debate should not be taking place!’ he concluded.

Evan Harris, the recently deposed Lib Dem MP, recalled his experience at a pluralist school. ‘I was savagely beaten by children of all faiths.’ He admitted that many faith schools outperform community schools but ascribed this to ‘the prior attainment and family background’ of the pupils. He called on Michael Gove to include pluralist religious education in the national curriculum.

Melanie McDonagh of the Evening Standard paid tribute to her ‘absent friends’ the Anglican Church. The majority of faith schools in this country were run by the C of E, and welcomed all-comers. In Oldham there are C of E schools where 80 per cent of the pupils are Muslim. And these schools aren’t indoctrinating pupils. Studies show that many children raised to a particular religious orthodoxy abandon their beliefs in adulthood.

Before the debate the audience was inclined to support the motion. That feeling had strengthened by the end.

—Lloyd Evans

Votes before: For 38, Against 22, Undecided 32

Votes after: For 54, Against 34, Undecided 5