Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Collective something or other

I see various religious people are getting a bit flustered by the latest policy advisory report by ex-Education secretary Charles Clark and sociology professor Linda Woodhead. There are several recommendations in the report, but in summary, the conclusion is that the relationship between religion and schools in the UK needs to be re-examined and in certain places overhauled. For example, they call for the abandonment of the "collective act of worship" which as the name suggests can only really apply to half the population (or less) and is a clear throw-back to a long since extinct age of compliance and uniformity of population.

There are some interesting facts and commentary in the report and I would broadly agree with most of it's conclusions, where I don't it's more a case of wanting to go further.

  • Compulsory collective worship is a joke, the vast majority of kids (at least the ones I've ever known) don't want it and most schools pay lip service to doing it. I wish I could have back all of the time that I wasted as a child being forced to sit in draughty churches listening to complete drivel and despising every second of it; if the parent and/or child wants that kind of thing then they should be doing it on their own dime.
  • Comparative religion (RE) should be taught in all schools to the same standard; it should be objective and have the goal of educating children about the world they actually live in and not indoctrinating them into one particular way of thinking, it should be done in a pluralistic way.
  • Religion is NOT the same as morality, claiming that religion needs to be a part of school life in order to instill morality into children is a complete fallacy. Children should have the option to learn about philosophy and ethics; schools of thought like deism, atheism and agnosticism should certainly be included as first-class citizens in that same thread of education.
  • Religious schools should be allowed. I agree, but I don't think they should be state funded. I prefer the American model where religion is kept completely out of state-schools, this is the only way to ensure fairness in terms of funding but also in terms of equal treatment for all children, no stigma associated with having to "exclude" yourself from certain communal activities (like collective worship!)
  • If parents are so insecure in their religious beliefs and/or feel overwhelmingly obliged to indoctrinate their children into their own particular brand of woo then they should be paying for that themselves, I don't believe it is the job of the state to promote one particular religion.
  • There is a widespread belief in this country (UK) that religious schools are somehow "better" than religion neutral state-schools, superficially that may be true if you restrict yourself to just looking at exam results; but it can't be argued that a selective school is better than a non-selective one, that's not comparing apples with apples.

The days of segregating children at a young age by the arbitrary religion of their parents is thankfully becoming the exception rather than the rule. It seems obvious to me that this kind of segregation is just a recipe for storing up future problems, we need only look at places like Northern Ireland to see how that story can play out. No one would want to deny the rights of parents wishing to imprint their own convictions onto their children, but the sooner we move to a properly neutral i.e. secular state education system the better (and fairer) for everyone.


Chairman Bill said...

The collective act is a relic of when the only schools were those set up by the church and rich philanthropists, who were invariably deeply religious Quakers. I agree it's time to move with the times.

Steve Borthwick said...

CB, I suspect like me, as a kid you had to sit through many a boring "service" when you'd much rather be doing anything else! (well, other than double RE of course)