Education, not indoctrination!
Enforcement of a Christian agenda is disturbingly common in English schools today. James Snell reports from the school yard
It used to surprise me how publicly religious state schools can be. I have just finished Year 11 in a Grammar School in Essex, where the message of the religious was a constant (if slightly peripheral) influence on the school and the way it did things. We were assailed by twice-weekly hymn-singing assemblies, which were largely unrepresentative of the school as a whole, as well as not-too-subtle religious messages in PSHEE (personal, social, health and economic education) classes.
PSHEE is quite hard to qualify because, even though the 2011 National Curriculum clearly mentions “spiritual, moral, social and cultural development”, “spiritual” is left with a loose and opaque definition. Instead of being seen as the weasely concession to religious pressure groups too scared to insist that schools enforce a sense of “faith” or even “fear of God” in young people, spirituality is portrayed as some distant cousin of self-confidence and thus allowed to slip in too.
Hymn assemblies are an odd undertaking, in that only a tiny minority of the student body appear to be Christians who regularly attend church. Religious assemblies are legally mandatory, after the 1944 Education Act decreed that each school should hold an act of what is referred to as “collective worship” every day.
Even the religious assemblies, which seem to take up a huge amount of time to people who are as disinterested as me, were actually under-provided by the school – which is technically in breach of this arcane law. This is perhaps why senior teachers saw fit to lapse into tired faith-based justification on such a regular basis when they take to the podium. I suppose this is because we still have that anachronistic tradition of an Established Church. In a nominally secular country, I hope we didn’t have the pop morality of overtly religious authority figures foisted on children on the sly.
With the increased diversity of the population, the blanket assumption of a Christian (and particularly Church of England) community will no longer do. In my school alone there are many of us who are atheists or agnostics; there are also a good number of Muslim, Jewish and Sikh students as well, who are not catered for in this act of legislative arbitration. We were left feeling isolated, in the wake of these public displays, despite being very much in the majority.
In RE, the GCSE course which I have just completed allows for minimal criticism of religious philosophy, and no secular or humanistic approach towards the ethics section of the course at all. While there were options to look at secular philosophy, and the challenges to humanist ethicists such as Peter Singer, they were not compulsory, and we looked at them in a purely extra-curricular capacity.
Only the actions of my heroic teacher, and his focus on the worthy idea of wider learning, saved us all from becoming fact-starved ignoramuses with a single purpose: to answer those nice potted questions at the end of Year 11.
What we need is to separate religion and education, as the enforcement of a broadly Christian agenda has become hugely out of date, and this is having a detrimental effect on teaching and learning in Britain as a whole.