Have faith in the least bad route

21st July 2006 at 01:00
If a revolution were to take place in Britain tomorrow it is very likely there would be no place for religious schools. In a perfect world, The TES would also argue that religion should have no business running state schools. Yet state-funded faith schools do exist. Many are deeply rooted in their communities and have played a historic role in the development of public education in this country.

This is the reality David Blunkett faced in 1998 when, as Education Secretary, he decided to award state funding to the first Muslim schools.

His decision was rightly based on grounds of pragmatism and fairness, despite misgivings about the consequences. Now he seems to have joined the sceptics, expressing major doubts about the further expansion of Muslim state schools.

This apparent change of heart may be because, as sadly seems all too common with this government, he was prepared as a minister to implement policies he did not truly believe in. Alternatively, and more charitably, he believes that in order to qualify for state funding Muslim schools - and indeed schools of any faith - must be genuine in wishing to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, encourage responsible citizenship and promote religious tolerance.

Such a stick and carrot approach, used wisely, could be an effective way of ensuring Britain's Muslim community plays a full and active part in the country's future, both socially and economically. Many Muslim parents currently opt out of the mainstream, preferring badly resourced private schools to state schools that fail to meet their aspirations, whether for religious, cultural or educational reasons.

The danger is that this separation may lead to sectarianism and, in some cases, indoctrination. This is precisely what has happened in the United States where the secular schooling system (the product of a revolution) has led many fundamentalist Christians to send their children to unregulated private schools, breeding mistrust in public institutions.

In our imperfect world, the regulation of faith schools through state funding is the least bad solution. We must make it work.

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