Many may remember the education scandal associated with Operation Trojan Horse in 2014. A letter was given to the authorities which purported to be evidence of a plot by hard-line Islamists to replace leadership in Birmingham schools with a high proportion of attendees from Muslim backgrounds, in order to instil a much more religiously conservative ethos and curricula. Though the letter was widely suspected to be a hoax, it raises some serious questions about what the role of religion in school should be.
These questions and others like it, have become a lot more difficult to answer with Ofsted delivering, on 19th January, its worst ever report to ‘The Durham Free School’; a school with a strong “Christian ethos”. The school received inadequate (the worst rating) in all areas covered in the inspection. Many of the inspector’s comments give significant cause for alarm, in relation to schooling generally but also in relation to the role that religion plays within the school.
In the report we find comments such as:
“Reviewing the curriculum so that there are appropriate opportunities to teach students about sex and relationships and to promote respect for different faiths, beliefs and values so that they are fully ready to function as young citizens of modern Britain”
“Governors place too much emphasis on religious credentials when they are recruiting key staff and not enough on seeking candidates with excellent leadership and teaching skills”
“The religious studies curriculum was too narrow and did not give students enough opportunities to learn about different faiths and beliefs. Consequently, students’ understanding of different faiths and beliefs is sketchy with some holding prejudiced views which are not challenged.”
It is clear that the school’s management and teaching staff, and the governors have all, to some extent, allowed their own personal religious beliefs to negatively impact on the opportunity for the pupils of this school to receive an adequate education; a very sad state of affairs.
With two serious incidents in education from schools where religious values are put before teaching the role of religious schools within Britain has to be called in to question.
No one should be saying that schools should be wholly secular, with no religious education; this is not a way to foster understanding and compassion for people and their beliefs. But what can be said is that the management of a school should be wholly secular, with religion being kept to the religious studies classroom.
It has been the tradition of the government in the UK, and was written in to the American constitution that, though religion has its place, that place is not within the running of a society. Schools are a bedrock of any healthy society, and so reasonably they should fall under the same dictum that religion does not have a place within the governance of out schooling systems.
To read the Ofsted report in full follow the link below: