Young sceptics say faith schools breed racism

Karen Thornton

Specialist and faith schools may be all the rage in Whitehall but pupils are still clinging to the old comprehensive model, reports Karen Thornton

PUPILS say Government plans for more religious and specialist secondaries will increase racism and encourage them to truant.

And their parents and teachers are not much happier about ministers' moves to increase diversity in the secondary sector. Only half want a bigger variety of school types.

Pupil discussion groups run by Save the Children reveal widespread opposition to more faith-based schools and confusion and scepticism about specialist schools.

The 54 secondary and 65 primary pupils, mostly from inner-London schools, were worried that they might have to travel long distances to a school specialising in their preferred subject, or go to one that specialised in an area they didn't like. All schools should teach all subjects, they said.

"I would find myself bunking off if no school around me specialised in my subject," said one. "I wouldn't want to travel a long way," said another. "I want school to offer everything."

There was overwhelming opposition to single-faith schools. Pupils wanted to mix with and learn from classmates of other religions and backgrounds. One said: "I like all religions and faiths - this will increase racism. This is a very bad idea."

Another said: "It would be a good idea if people from different faiths went to the same school so we could learn from each other." A third had an apocalyptic view: "People from other faiths should mix together or there will be war between religions."

The pre-election Schools: Building on Success Green Paper spelled out Labour's new focus on raising secondary standards by promoting diversity and encouraging all schools to develop their own ethos.

"Bog-standard" comprehensives will be replaced by a network of beacon, specialist, church, city academy and business-sponsored schools. Nearly half of schools will be specialist by 2006, and entitled to select up to 10 per cent of pupils by aptitude.

The official consultation on the Green Paper garnered 421 responses from individuals and organisations. There was strong support for proposals such as supporting schools in challenging circumstances, improving transition between primary and secondary, raising standards, and enhancing teachers' professional development.

But only 49 per cent of respondents backed measures to increase diversity in the secondary sector. Margaret Tulloch, from the Campaign for State Education, said: "They really should take this (response) seriously; it's noticeable this is so different from the support for everything else."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "We are looking at the concerns. The forthcoming White Paper will set out detailed plans for taking forward our policy."

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Karen Thornton

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