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There are currently around fifty state-funded Jewish schools in England, the majority of which are characterised as Modern Orthodox, meaning they seek to combine observance of Jewish values and law with ‘secular studies’ and engagement with modern society. The precise nature of this balance varies from school to school, though a number of reports in recent years revealing highly conservative teaching on, among other things, homosexuality and the status of women suggest that the ethos at many of these schools continues to err on the side of Orthodoxy rather than modernity.
Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) is a curriculum and system of learning which espouses a fundamentalist, creationist, homophobic and misogynistic Christian ideology. ACE originated in America, but there are now over thirty schools using the ACE curriculum in the UK and Ireland under the umbrella group Christian Education Europe, and it is also used by a not insignificant number of parents who home-school their children. All ACE schools in the UK are private.
Ten per cent of all state-funded schools in England are Catholic, equivalent to around two thousand schools, and all are free to teach faith-based and confessional religious education, discriminate on the grounds of religion in their admissions and employment policies, and provide sex and relationships education in line with Catholic beliefs about same-sex relationships, abortion, and contraception.
The Charedi community, sometimes also known as the Ultra Orthodox Jewish or Hassidic community, practices strict observation of Jewish law and doctrine. The education in the 35 or so Charedi schools is focussed almost entirely on study of the Torah and Talmud, with very little education in what are referred to as ‘secular’ subjects such as English or Maths and almost no opportunity to experience or engage with wider society. The majority of Charedi schools in the UK are private, though there are a small number of state-funded schools, and, despite recent efforts to clamp down on the problem, there are also a significant number of illegal, unregistered schools which espouse a highly conservative and isolationist ideology, particularly catering for boys over 13 (who have had their bar mitzvah). Charedi schools are frequently creationist, homophobic, and forbid no social media, and have strict dress codes.
Nearly a quarter of all state-funded schools in England are Anglican, accounting for over one million children. Whilst all of these schools are free to teach religious education from a faith-based perspective, and can of course enforce daily Christian collective worship, their ability to discriminate on the grounds of religion in their admissions and employment policies varies depending on the type of school and the nature of their governance. However, many of the schools do discriminate in this way. Given their prevalence, in many parts of England, and particularly in rural areas, a Church of England school is often the only feasible option for local families, meaning that minority religious or non-religious parents can have little option but to send their children to a school which espouses a religious ethos different to their own.
The Exclusive Brethren, a subset of the Plymouth Brethren, are a fundamentalist evangelical Christian group which conforms to a rigid moral code based strictly on Biblical teaching. The Brethren are isolationist in their outlook and seek to limit not only any interaction with people or groups outside of their immediate community, but also any experience of wider society or other cultures through watching television or listening to the radio, both of which are generally forbidden. Children therefore grow up ill-equipped to live in modern society, severely limiting their ability to leave the community if they wish. Attendance of University is also discouraged. The Brethren have around 35 private schools in England and Wales, all of which are operated by the Focus Learning Trust (FLT) and are known as Focus Schools. In recent years the FLT have repeatedly applied to set up Free Schools too, but those applications have invariably been rejected since teaching at the schools reflects the Brethren’s conservative views on, among other things, homosexuality, women, and the place of creationism in science.
Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) have historically been among the least educated of the major religious groups, largely owing to the emphasis placed on pioneering and missionary service on behalf of the church rather than on any education which might positively contribute to a career or to engagement in society outside the JW community. Many JW children are either home-schooled or are taken out of school immediately on reaching the end of compulsory school age, and higher education is not encouraged.
There are currently nearly thirty state-funded Muslim schools in England and Wales and around an additional 180 private Muslim schools. The religious ethos of and education at these schools varies significantly from case to case. While the state-funded schools largely adhere to the required minimum standards and provide an acceptable level of education, many have nonetheless been known to espouse conservative views on, among other things, women and homosexuality, and private schools sometimes enforce a strict and highly conservative moral code, features of which can include homophobic, misogynistic, creationist, isolationist, and extremist teaching. In addition to these registered state-funded and private schools, there are also known to be a number of illegal, unregistered Muslim schools which operate beyond any formal oversight or inspection with concerns that they espouse a radicalising ideology.
Steiner schools (known in other countries as Waldorf schools) base their teaching on the works and beliefs of Austrian mystic Rudolf Steiner, and there are now over one thousand mainstream Steiner schools and two thousand kindergartens around the world, over thirty of which (including four state-funded Academies) are in England. Steiner schools promote a wide range of pseudoscientific ideas in their curriculum, central to which is the concept of ‘anthroposophy’, which postulates a spiritual world and involves beliefs such as karma, reincarnation, and the efficacy of various alternative medicines such as homeopathy and eurythmy (a form of medicinal dance). The Steiner movement’s opposition to vaccinations is also a common feature of the schools, and this has led to a number of issues in the past, including outbreaks of preventable diseases and warnings about threats to the health of the communities around Steiner schools. The schools are generally understood to provide a curriculum of limited breadth, particularly in science, and they have also long been dogged by accusations of racism in their teaching.