The newly launched 'Fair Admissions Campaign' demands that all state-funded schools should be open to all children, regardless of their parents' religion.
It claims that it is 'widely supported', but that seems to fly in the face of the very limited number and size of the groups who have formed the campaign. It looks to me to have very limited support, nor, indeed, can it.
And there's an enormous paradox in the campaign's central tenet: Why do so many parents want to send their children to faith based schools? Can they really want their children to grow up to be narrow and insular? Could it be that their deepest ambitions are to raise children who will have no acceptance of people of other faiths and none? Are they secretly yearning for a return to the Dark Ages? If that is really the case, it is hard to understand how perhaps one third of all schools in the UK, faith based as they are, remain so popular. In fact, faith based schools appear to be one of the growth industries of our time. More and more people want them, with even faith based free schools, where only 50% of the places may be reserved for those professing the faith, amongst the vanguard. It would appear that parents are prepared to go to great lengths to get their children admitted to faith based schools. This even applies to parents who are not themselves religious. You have to ask yourself why this should be?
Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks wrote in the Times: 'The simple answer is that faith schools tend to have academic success above the average: so, at any rate, the league tables suggest. But why should this be so, if faith inhibits critical thought and discourages independence of mind? This is a question worth serious reflection.'
I think that it is quite clear that faith schools tend to have a strong ethos emphasising respect for authority, the virtues of hard work, discipline and a sense of duty rather than just rights, a commitment to high ideals, a willingness to learn and a sense of social responsibility. Their ethos also gives a preference for earned self-respect rather than unearned self-esteem and the idea of an objective moral order transcending subjective personal preferences.
The 'Fair Admissions Campaign' is, in fact anything but fair, as it - on its own admission - focuses solely on the issue of religious selection in admissions in state schools in England and Wales, and its consequences in terms of religious, racial and ethnic, and social and economic segregation. Where is its campaign against discrimination based on post codes, socio economic grouping of parents, parental education standards......or even distance from the school gate?
I seem to recall a traditional African saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Even more so, I believe that it takes a community to build and sustain a school. It may be that communities are increasingly hard to find these days, but many are held together by shared beliefs, traditions, rituals, stories, conventions, codes and a sense of shared belonging. They are faith based communities.
These days in Britain it is increasingly hard to find a genuine community outside the world of faith. Virtual networks, the blogosphere, Twitter and Facebook, simply do not fulfil these criteria.
Perhaps upwards of twenty million people living in the United Kingdom today have benefited from an education in faith based schools. This government, together with every other government since the Education Act of 1944, has recognised the value that the parental option of a faith based education for their children can bring. If we truly believe in parental choice, the current system seems to be about as good as it gets.