THE BLOG

The Faith School - A Problem for Society?

13/11/2014 11:26 GMT | Updated 12/01/2015 10:59 GMT

We are seeing a discussion develop since the alleged case of Trojan Horse in Birmingham, of the shunning of faith in education. And thus seeing the increasing scrutiny of the faith school.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, instigated the debate by announcing that the RE curriculum had to teach more than one religion - Which almost always affects faith schools. The decision is not the problem, as learning about different religions is not a bad thing.

The problem is the underlying presumptions being made, and discussed, alongside. That faith schools really are a problem, and that children in these schools are being isolated from society. They are being taught narrow prejudiced 'religious' views which then means they will grow into adults hostile, towards those in wider society. And as Muslims have had the added privilege of being centre stage of this scrutiny, there is an urgent need to discuss these presumptions. The actions of Ofsted - the explosion of spot checking Muslim schools as well as schools of other faiths, reinforces this.

First and foremost I cannot and do not claim to speak on behalf of all faith schools. But I do have previous first-hand experience of Muslim schools, and how some of these claims relate to them.

Isolation

It's ludicrous to suggest that parents who put the extra financial investment into choosing a independent form of education for their child would be preparing them for a life, isolated from the rest of society. If that was the case, there would be no point in a education at all as the world of work and further education means interacting with the wider world around them.

The choice of a faith school is about parents seeking to shape and nurture their own children, in the way they deem best for them. Islamic schools simply provide parents who believe in particular values, with an environment which reflects that created at home. Nurturing such values in them enables them to interact with the rest of society as the best possible people, that they can be.

But there is of course a culture which parents are eager to protect their children from, a culture in wider society that is in full unlimited flow. From tweens to teens, there is a growing individualistic, sexualised, materialistic youth culture; detached from spirituality or compassion which dominates the 'normal' schools today.

Of course this youth culture is everywhere, driven through the media and the entertainment industry, but is it that shocking that there are parents out there who seek the slightly diffused faith school environment for their growing and vulnerable children, over this? That they choose an environment where values of compassion, service and submission to a Higher Being are attempted to be imbibed?

Prejudiced views

The claim that Islamic schools breed homophobia, misogyny is a conclusion derived from the way facts wish to be seen, rather than how they actually are.

Yes, Muslims hold particular values and views about relationships. Intimacy, Muslims commonly believe occurs in the sphere of heterosexual marriage. These views are nothing new and indeed not at all specific to just Islam.

However this in no way means that this is synonymous with promoting hostility or violence towards those who don't conduct their relationships within the values of Islam.

Rather it is in an Islamic school that children are taught from day one of the importance of good character with everyone they meet, those who agree with them, and those who don't. It is under the roof of an Islamic school, children are taught kind and generous behaviour towards others is a fundamental of their education.

Thus the claim of homophobia being fuelled in Islamic schools just because they do not promote it as a practice is ludicrous. Secular state schools don't actively promote the adorning of hijab as a lifestyle choice - But we can't say that's breeding a hatred of Muslim women.

And when it comes to gender - Separation of gender is conducted in almost every society, but to varying levels and in different situations according to the culture. From toilets to separated sporting events, in British culture.

In Islamic culture, gender separated seating in certain environments is the way men and women interact with one another - Islamic independent schools abide by this value in their own environment. The girls are still respected by the teacher, and the rest of the boys, regardless of where they sit. This has no bearing on their academic achievements, educational opportunities just as it doesn't for all the girls across the country in single sex schools.

Hostile behaviour towards wider society

It is argued that the narrow religious views of faith schools breed intolerance and therefore hostility towards others.

But this can only be built, if the values of the school do so. And Muslims schools if anything are trying to do the opposite - Build an attitude of service and compassion towards neighbours and the community, in a time where such values are becoming more and more scarce. Of course these schools have their problems, but many believe that this is one of the greatest things they must embed in their pupils without a doubt. So where on earth did this view of hostility come from?

The fact that Muslims carry out terrorist attacks? Well, the handful from the Muslim community who have carried out the unlawful and unjustified attacks in Britain, beforehand all claimed they were driven by anger over British foreign policy, not that Islamic values urged them to kill for the sake of it.

So that leaves us with a glaring question about what creates hostility in the next generation.

The reality today is, discipline and behaviour of children is a daily battle for staff across secular schools in Britain. Basic respect of authority is not a given. Values of tolerance, respect are clearly under question across schools, across communities, which pulls into question how children in secular state schooling are being equipped to interact in wider society.

Perhaps it's therefore time we see past presumptions and misconceptions about minority institutions like faith schools and address the real issues children and young people face in this society honestly and objectively.

This is not to say faith schools don't have their problems - of course they do, like many schools. But it's time we also begin to recognise the true worth schools with distinct values can actually bring the society that we live in.