Faith Schools – Are they providing a clear picture?

By Jennifer Valentine-Miller

Jennifer’s school photo 1978

From the 1970s (when I was at school) to year 2020 many conversations at school reunions constantly feedback the same message “our school let us down”, and Faith school students also say the same thing.

At school I obtained Pass certificates in Religious Studies and Social Ethics which I enjoyed. However in the long run those studies were not relevant when applying for jobs unless I wanted to go to Bible college, which I did not want to do at the time. Also, there were theatre studies and sports activities which I was encouraged to partake in because it was part of my school’s syllabus. However, When I attended drama classes, netball tournaments and tennis tournaments, my head of year would only exclaim that outside activities were a “distraction” to me which was affecting my other exams; especially Mathematics (so that I could get a job in a bank). That is why I salvaged a BA Hon degree and other Higher Education qualifications later on in life – it would have been ideal to have gained a scholarship when I left school. Campaign groups like “No More Faith School .org uk” are asking for public funding towards religious groups in order for them to evangelize to children who are disillusioned when they leave school having completed their time as Lower 6 or Upper 6 students.

And it seems according to reports that Faith schools are having a “negative impact on social cohesion, foster segregation of children on social, ethnic and religious lines, and undermine choice and equality” (No-more-faithschools.org). In other words, the report is saying if you attended a faith school it does not look good on your CV to the “outside world”. The anti report goes on to say that, “children living in England deserve the best – the law expects schools to demonstrate that they are encouraging pupils to take a respectful and tolerant stance towards those who hold values different from their own. Ofsted acts robustly and impartially to ensure all children in England receive a good education.”

Following on from ongoing claims of sexual exploitation within schools – leaders “have not ensured that safeguarding procedures have been sufficiently robust to keep pupils safe at all times,” inspectors found.  Also, school’s leaders have not ensured that all staff employed at the school has routinely undergone the necessary vetting checks, which compromises pupils’ welfare.“  (Secularism.org.uk 2019).

The charity Child Net insists that the importance of Faith Schools lies in it being able to opt-out of teaching subjects contrary to their religious beliefs, such as information on homosexuality and contraception. The compulsory parts of sex and relationship education from Year 7 (primary school) teach children about reproduction, sexuality and sexual health – including decisions around abortion.

Campaigners insist that pupils from faith schools fail to develop their own beliefs independently. I have no qualms with that. My argument is to support their pupils with after care, especially those who like religious studies, social ethics, theatre, and… Physical- Sciences or in my era it was called P.E. (physical education).

Today, senior leaders preclude the teaching of certain protected characteristics of students leaving school could be defined in the Equality Act. According to the Equality Act 2010, protected characteristics are aspects of a person’s identity that make them who they are. It’s worth noting, while this legislation doesn’t offer protection for revealing protected characteristic e.g. religious beliefs.  Moreover, it’s  unlawful to treat an employee or apprentice differently if they reveal they attended a Faith school – alas, it still happens.