Funds for faiths in the classroom

1st November 1996 at 00:00
I have no brief for conferring grant-maintained status specially on new Christian schools, nor am I a Seventh-day Adventist. If the Department for Education and Employment is thrust to the edge of a potentially dangerous and costly precedent by the Funding Agency for Schools backing a Seventh-day Adventist secondary school, I feel that the department, and 10 Downing Street, have only themselves to blame.

However, the issue of new religious schools at state expense should be seriously debated. Hopes of this were dampened somewhat by your front-page report on John Loughborough School. Your reporter seemed linguistically destabilised by the horrific prospect of a Christian school getting state funding. For example, no RE teacher marking an essay would leave uncorrected a sentence about "religious or evangelical schools . . . alongside those of established churches".

When we read the reasons that the funding of John Loughborough causes concern, our minds run to comparisons inside and outside the present funding structure. Although most of the staff are not qualified teachers "a quarter of the 20 15-year-olds achieved five or more higher grade GCSEs".

Should the Government approve a school with a totally black and Asian intake and a black teaching staff, it asks. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is "a sect that rejects the theory of evolution", "its adherents await the Second Coming of Jesus Christ" (which Christians don't?), "take Saturday as their Sabbath, and are encouraged not to smoke, drink or take drugs", and "tend to be vegetarian".

All this apparently adds up to making such people unsuitable for state funds to manage the education of children.

As long as such discriminatory language can be used about a group identified as Christians, when nothing like it can be used about Muslims, it is clear that education professionals lack the will or the skill to discuss the integration of faith and education. While that is true, education professionals will lose control of events.

RICHARD WILKINS General Secretary Association of Christian Teachers 94A London Road St Albans Hertfordshire

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