Monday, September 20, 2010

Faith schools: diversity or division?

According to the Catholic Education Service (CES), it is "spurious to suggest that to take away a religious community's right to firstly educate its own children and to instead give preference to others, for example, by introducing a 30% non-faith quota for Church schools, would aid social cohesion." Really? As someone whose teaching career has been solely in the VA RC sector, I would argue that it is neither spurious nor contrary to the mission of the Church. Indeed, I would go further and challenge the CES to publish a complete list of Catholic schools - particularly secondaries - where it is already customary that between 20-30% of the intake is from other faith (or non-faith) backgrounds.

I personally welcomed the defeated Lord's amendment to the 2006 Education and Inspection Bill on admissions to schools with a religious character. I would argue that such a proposal was a positive move towards greater social and educational inclusion. A truly "Christian school" would be one that seeks to be open to all - and which pays particular attention to the needs of marginalised and poorer communities. What is needed is a mature, open and honest debate about the type of educational system various faith groups would be happy to support and indeed help shape in the twenty-first century. Should it be an inclusive, comprehensive system that intrinsically values and caters for all pupils regardless of their spiritual, economic or social capital? Or should it be a two tier, elitist system that perpetuates privilege, does not help promote the common good and is contrary to the message of the gospel?

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