Excluded by secularist views

4th February 2005 at 00:00
Your front-page headline "Christian schools fail test of tolerance" (TES, January 21) ought to win a prize for misrepresentation, though you share in a near-universal confusion.

The media have interpreted chief inspector David Bell as making the claim that faith schools are failing to produce good citizens, are not teaching tolerance, and are a threat to the national identity. In fact, Bell admits that his inspectors never assessed anything of the sort. All they did was assess how well schools are delivering the content of the citizenship curriculum.

He cites no evidence of a link - good, bad, or indifferent - between content and outcome. Our experience is that Christian schools are doing a fine job of nurturing good citizenship and tolerance. Indeed, the Office for Standards in Education's own reports back that conclusion.

In contrast, an Ofsted survey of 14 to 16-year-olds studying citizenship found that more than 50 per cent of them either did not know what citizenship education is, or could offer no examples of what they had learned. Worse still, 40 per cent of pupils "in the north" were opposed to learning about Britain's cultural diversity!

It is inexplicable why Bell chose to target faith schools, or Muslim schools in particular. Christian schools strongly support the aim of good citizenship and tolerance. They are less than happy with the curriculum, because it marginalises faith and the role of faith communities.

David Bell worries about religious segregation; we are concerned about the far greater problem of secular segregation. Graham Haydon made the relevant point more than a decade ago: "If any school can do the job of preparing people to participate in the democratic, plural, and not exclusively secular polity, it will to that extent be fulfilling an important role ...

it is only the secular school which can expose its pupils to one sort of thinking only; and the possibility of this should be seen as a risk rather than a merit of such schools." (Journal of Philosophy of Education, 28 (1), 1994, page 73) Ofsted and The TES may regard secularism as neutral; to many of us in the faith communities it is another, and often oppressive and intolerant, sectarian position, as David Bell's unconscionable attack has made only too clear.

Dr Arthur Jones Education consultant 21 Stalybridge Road Hyde, Cheshire

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