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Scary schools

EvolutionI happened to see the last 15 minutes of a scary programme The New Fundamentalists on Channel 4 yesterday evening. An article from Channel 4’s website about the programme is here. The programme specifically focussed on 3 schools in the North East of England that have been created under the government’s city academies scheme, and in this case have been part funded by Reg Vardy, a rich car dealership owner and fundamental Christian. So, these are state schools, free to attend, but are run according to quite rigid discipline and along very Christian lines. Further, the parents often do not have the opportunity to send their kids anywhere else. If even half of the allegations presented by the parents in the programme are true, these schools are truly shocking… And yet the government promises yet more of these city academies.


7 Comments

  • Daniela |

    Sounds a lot like my old school :). But then again, I did go to a Catholic school run by the nuns! For me this is not really surprising, since even public schools in Malta have a religious background, and this can be found also at the University, but I can understand that it might be an issue in the Country like the UK.

    Don’t really know what to think… Jon you need to give us an update on this!

  • Jon |

    There is a difference between schools with a religious background, and schools where other approaches and religions are effectively excluded. Generally most British state schools have assemblies that are along protestant lines but in the vast majority of cases efforts are made to explain all religions in Religious Studies classes, and in science evolution is taught as fact.

    In parallel to all of this, explicitly religious schools have also existed, but there has normally been a choice as to whether parents send their children there. In the twon where I grew up – Newport – there was one such school that was explicitly Catholic. However, like anywhere else, it still had to teach the National Curriculum.

    The problem we have with Vardy’s city academies that this post refers to is that in the (smallish) towns in question there is often no choice over the school a kid is sent to. Second, the city academy system gives schools great flexibility about their structure and funding, and less control from the local council. Third, these schools are in multi-cultural areas where I am not sure giving evangelical Christian teaching is especially appropriate.

    The issue is hence not one of religious schools per se, but the degree of religious influence within a school, and the controversy of how far that religious approach can go.

    There are many dynamics at play here, and I cannot do all of them justice in a short answer!

  • Daniela |

    Yes I see what you mean, and I think you’re quite right actually! Has public opinion reacted at all to this? And what is the Government’s stand? Is it all based on the fact that one is free to run a school in the way one wishes?

  • Jon |

    The government has wanted these city academies – they are seen as a way to bring additional funding into the education sector. Blair has strongly defended their role… Also, I have to suspect that the fact that he and the education secretary Ruth Kelly are both quite devout Christians has something to do with why there has been little controversy in politics about these schools.

    Public opinion is a bit odd on these sorts of issues. We do not have a sensible debate in the UK about separation of Church and State. I don’t mean that opinion is one way or another, but simply that there is little thought or analysis of the question. On the other hand, the British are obsessed by the exam results in local schools, and anything that boosts those results tends to be applauded. These schools have above average results, and new buildings, and for most parents that is preferable…

    One of the three schools in question also expels more than 10 times as many pupils as the average for the region, so that might be part of the reason whhy its results are good… Or maybe I’m too cynical!

  • BondBloke |

    No Jon, definitely not too cynical, if the trouble makers are expelled then that leaves only the cream of the pupils to reflect in government figures. I agrre with you what is going on in these schools is indeed scary stuff. But what worries me most is that the inspectorate, upon receiving complaints, can say that all is well witout even visiting the school; one has to ask is government pressure being applied here, or is it me who is now being too cynical?

  • Daniela |

    Wow…deja vu … I am remembering the threats the nuns used to use with us when I was a tiny tot of 4 or 5, if we did not study and pass our exams, we would be sent to a Government school!!

    In fact, every year, 2 or 3 kids used to “vanish” … and the average grades of the class used to go higher and higher. Now that you made me think of it, it’s kind of scary that the methods of 20 years ago are still in use, and in a country like the UK!

  • Jon |

    What possibly makes you think we would be any good at administration or education in the UK?!?

    As H.G. Wells once said:

    In England we have come to rely upon a comfortable time-lag of fifty years or a century intervening between the perception that something ought to be done and a serious attempt to do it.

So, what do you think ?