Comments by Richard Scutt, Dorset Humanist & former Dorset SACRE Humanist Observer
"I enjoyed the debate which you Chris and David researched very well. I guess the outcome was never in doubt but there was a small swing on the day towards "Yes. I would like to make the following observations.
The position whereby until recently, the state education system provided both religious schools and non-religious schools administered by Local Education Authorities, is now under threat by the increasing number of Academies and (soon it seems) Free Schools. These will not be regulated in way of National Curriculum, admissions, staffing and in some cases Religious Education. It seems to me that the government is pushing towards privatisation of delivery of education but with taxpayers still funding it! This approach appears to be at least partly in response to the perceived failure of our state schools over the last years and the organised religions are grabbing opportunities to sponsor such schools.
I find it hard to accept that this "privatisation" is the only way or the best way to improve matters and I worry that it will create greater divides between de-regulated schools and those left in the state system with the former cherry-picking the most able staff and pupils (by wealth and/or ability) while the latter are left with the rest and possibly reduced funding. Wanting (as I do) really good free education to be available to every child as far as possible irrespective of house value (wealth), post code, religion or any other aspect of the child's background, I feel that de-regulated academies, free schools and faith schools are totally wrong.
The above points about privatisation or de-regulation apply whether there are faith schools in the mix or not but these moves have already increased the number of faith schools. I like the idea of inclusive (staff and admissions) state schools in which children in a neighbourhood can learn together without the potential of indoctrination by religion, or politics or anything else.
As well as high quality teaching of sciences, maths, English etc. there should be even-handed teaching about religious and non-religious beliefs, ethics etc. which will help the pupils to make their own decisions as to how they live their lives and help them to understand something of beliefs which are, perhaps, alien to their own backgrounds. There are those who would keep religion/beliefs out of school altogether and this might work but I think learning about them is a safer approach. Inclusive schools would not have to try to put in special measures to satisfy Community Cohesion requirements as do faith schools.
That we have faith schools is, I think, tied up with the formation of Christian church schools before state schools, their financial stake in those schools and the Establishment of the Church of England. Schools operated by other some other major faiths have followed. It must be said that many faith schools are successful and many more appear to be so but analysis seems to show that these good results are not because they are faith schools per se. David argues that having what he calls secular schools would discriminate against religious parents. That might be so but having inclusive schools would not discriminate because they, by definition, would have open staffing and admission policies and would teach about all types of beliefs.
I would like all schools to teach RE (or a better named subject) to a National Curriculum with no exemptions. SACRE's, though well intentioned make no sense to me. I think parental withdrawal from RE and the provision of extra-curricular specific religious education might be considered. I support the BHA wish for faith schools to be absorbed into the state system and I think inclusive state schools would represent the fairest system for the greatest number of people.
Lastly, despite all the idealistic points which we bring to this debate, it seems to me that the practicalities of the provision of free education rule out faith (or other sectarian or political) schools. It would be impossible to fund enough faith schools to cater for all the faiths which would like them without reducing the number of non-faith schools. How could fair provision of faith schools be made? Where would the faith schools be located?" Richard Scutt 14-09-10
Welcome to Dorset Humanists
Dorset Humanists is a welcoming group for humanists, atheists and agnostics who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. We meet in Bournemouth for informative and enjoyable presentations, debates and discussions on a wide range of subjects including ethics, science, religion, philosophy, politics, our environment and much more. We also organise regular social events.