25 March 2010


Good Schools for Everyone

Last week the Leicester Mercury carried a letter from a parent about the difficulty of getting a Hindu child into a Roman Catholic state school. See Faith-school failings .

Today the Mercury publishes an edited version of my response. I don't of course dispute the editorial prerogative, and the gist is little changed, but the mood is somewhat emasculated. Here's what I sent in under the title

Good Schools for Everyone

It is a very sorry state of affairs when parents like Sabhash Varambhia (Mailbox, 20 March) cannot find a good local school for their children. Mr Varambhia thought the ethos of any so-called ‘faith school’ would be better than a secular one – but found the ethos of English Martyrs (RC) school to be ‘we look after our own – Hindus need not apply’. How starkly does the point need to be made that religious schools are by their very nature sectarian and divisive? Isn’t it time that we did away with the concept of ‘bad schools’? We’re told of the importance of choice, but exactly which parents are the ones who set out to choose a school with the intention of having it fail to give their children a good education?

All schools should be good schools but we’ll never get there by disproportionately favouring some over others as happens at present – that way the gap can only get wider and the pressure for parents to try and out-compete others by more and more extreme religious attendance (or more corrupt forms of cheating) can only become more irresistible. Is this the ethos for a harmonious society?

We would all like our children to be polite and considerate, and also creative and ambitious – to have all the opportunities to grow in their individual ways, to achieve what they can for themselves and society, and to play their part in making the future a better one for their next generations. While some religions may claim these principles as their own, they are in fact human values and do not depend on ‘holy’ teachings. We need really good schools for everyone, not just a handful for a self-perpetuating pushy minority.

If you'd like to compare, this version was printed: Good, bad – it's devisive (sic).

Hi Frank

A while ago you thanked me for my comment following your letter in the Mercury and recommended I read the original and I am glad that I have. We will never know whether the "pruning" of your letter was to fit the space in the paper or so that they could not be accused of offending some religious group. Unfortunately, if the latter, then the editor missed the point that sometimes it is necessary to point out the segregation inherent in faith schools. For every pupil who gets into these "better" schools, someone else will miss out. At least in the days when pupils had their educational aspirations and hence, often, their life mapped because some passed their 11+ and some didn't, the criteria could be measured and was based on the pupil and not on the superstitious inclinations of their parents.
As a matter of interest I haven't been to the secular society yet but hope to go in May to one of the talks and may meet some of the people involved then.

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