A chilling and thorough insight into the experiences of pupils at Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) schools. Excellent journalism and a testament to the courage and determination of former ACE pupils in trying to prevent more children from having to go through what they did.
“It is a sad state of affairs when a humanist organisation will stand up for the rights of Muslims to access a wide variety of schools, but a group purporting to be the national Muslim body won’t do likewise.”
Last week the British Humanist Association (BHA) published research challenging misleading claims made by both the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service that their schools were inclusive of pupils from Muslim backgrounds, with many schools even taking a majority of Muslim-background pupils.
The research was published on the back of a Sunday Times report last month which found that ‘Muslim pupils outnumber Christian children in more than 30 church schools’, with the report saying that ‘The Church of England estimated that about 20 of its schools had more Muslim pupils than Christians and 15 Roman Catholic schools had majority Muslim pupils, according to the Catholic Education Service.’.
The Church of England in particular was quick to herald these numbers as a telling demonstration of just how ‘wide open to the communities they serve’ their schools are. Indeed, in comments that received widespread media coverage across the national press, the CofE’s education chief Nigel Genders noted that whilst ‘some still seem surprised when they hear of Church of England schools serving people of other faiths’, many parents tell him that they choose church schools precisely because ‘they know they will get a much more diverse sense of community rather than being separated out’.
Unfortunately for both the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service, the BHA then did some research which revealed that only a quarter of CofE and Catholic schools situated in areas where most young people identify as ‘Muslim’ actually take most of their pupils from Muslim backgrounds. Not so ‘wide open to the communities they serve’ after all.
Bizarrely, the CofE’s response to this was not to debunk the BHA’s statistics, which in fact are simply drawn from official Census data and remain unchallenged. Rather, the CofE has sought to distance itself from its own figures. Quoted in Schools Week, Mr Genders accused the BHA of:
‘attempting to contrast a purely anecdotal figure calculated by a Sunday newspaper with entirely separate census statistics.’
Now, even if we forget for a moment that the CofE was perfectly happy with the supposedly ‘anecdotal figure’ when it was using it to launch into a very public exercise in patting itself on the back, for it to say that the figure was ‘calculated by a Sunday newspaper’ is misleading in the extreme. It may have been published by a Sunday newspaper, presumably at the Church’s urging, but calculated? No. Let’s have a look again at exactly what was reported:
‘The Church of England estimated that about 20 of its schools had more Muslim pupils than Christians’
Note: ‘The Church of England estimated’. An anecdotal figure it may be, but if it is, then it is the Church’s own anecdotal figure. And discrediting a Sunday newspaper for publishing it is some way to thank them for a writing a puff piece in the first place.
At any rate, very little was made in the Schools Week piece of the Catholic figures. We found that 73 Catholic schools are situated in areas where most young people identify as ‘Muslim’, while just 15 were reported by the Sunday Times to actually take most of their pupils from Muslim backgrounds. Even if the Church of England’s figure is in fact an inaccurate ‘anecdote’ that they should never have told the press was an ‘estimate’ of which it was proud, the Catholic figure is undoubtedly accurate. Because unlike the CofE, the Catholic Education Service surveys all the pupils in its schools to find out their religious backgrounds. So it is definitely the case that Catholic schools are woefully exclusive.
Incidentally, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was also quoted in Schools Week leaping to the defence of the Church of England’s schools – another bizarre response given how exclusive they are of the people the MCB is supposed to represent. It is a sad state of affairs when a humanist organisation will stand up for the rights of Muslims to access a wide variety of schools, but a group purporting to be the national Muslim body won’t do likewise.
In any case, the lesson here should be clear: if you don’t want your falsehoods (if, indeed, they are falsehoods) undermined by the facts, don’t publish falsehoods in the first place. Unfortunately, given all that we know about the proponents of religious discrimination and segregation in our education system, we can’t imagine it’s a lesson they’ll learn.
This week, the Government announced that it will move to make relationships and sex education (RSE) compulsory in all English schools, finally answering the decades-long calls of a rich consensus of education and children’s rights charities, public health experts, parents, teachers, and children themselves.
The move is not before time. The last time any action was taken on RSE was way back in the year 2000, when the Government of the time published the existing, but now prehistoric, official Sex and Relationships Education guidance for schools. This 17-year inertia was hugely irresponsible, and for the millions of children who have gone through school ill-informed about things like healthy relationships, safe sex, consent, sexting, and various LGBT and gender issues, it has been hugely damaging too.
To be clear then, the news that RSE will become a statutory subject is absolutely to be welcomed…but cautiously so.
Contained within the Government’s proposals is a clause requiring that any RSE provided in schools must be ‘appropriate having regard to…the religious background of the pupils’. And in the written ministerial statement announcing the move, the Department for Education states that ‘faith schools will continue to be able to teach in accordance with the tenets of their faith.’
If you’re unclear about what this means, here are five reasons why you should be very, very concerned. Each takes the form of a brief quote from those who advocate teaching RSE, to use the DfE’s ominous words, ‘in accordance with the tenets of their faith’.
‘For many years, sex and relationship education has not provided a godly stance on sexuality or sexual relationships. Instead, it reflects our society’s increasingly liberal sexual norms.’
From Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern, which among other things has recently campaigned to oppose the extension of hate crime offences to sexual orientation and gender identity.
‘Some are wedded to the notion of “children’s reproductive-health rights” – a euphemism for the “right” of children to engage in unlawful sexual intercourse, with confidential access to contraception and abortion.’
From Normal Wells, Director of the Family Education Trust, a ‘national educational trust which researches the causes and consequences of family breakdown’ and states that sex education is ‘indoctrination’ designed to ‘tear down traditional moral standards’
‘Since the Church has always taught that sexual love should always find its true place in marriage, a homosexual partnership and a heterosexual marriage can never be equated. This is the case in English law. The Church seeks to affirm the homosexual as a person, but cannot approve of homosexual genital acts.’
From the Sex and Relationships Education policy of a state Catholic school in England, featured on Faith Schoolers Anonymous last year and subsequently changed.
‘Today there is an urgent threat to [children’s] sexual purity from immoral messages which come to them as part of formal education and through the media… If they have not had clear biblical teaching on the subjects of marriage, relationships and sex, young people will be unable to answer the evil one’s lies’
From Christian sex education provider Lovewise, which conducts presentations in schools, telling children – among other things – that ‘most rape victims regret abortion’, that ‘abortions dramatically increase the risk of depression and suicide’, and that homosexuality is ‘damaging to mind, body and spirit’.
‘[Young people] do have choices about how they live their lives and the HPV vaccine suggests they won’t be able to control themselves. We should have higher expectations for them and show them more respect, not vaccinate them en masse against STIs’
Until recently, advice that appeared on the website of anti-abortion group LIFE, which warned that the cervical cancer jab ‘gives young people another green light to be promiscuous.’
No child, regardless of their religious or non-religious background, should be subjected to discrimination, misinformation, and bigotry, least of all as part of a subject that should be equipping them to stay safe, to be respectful, and to be themselves. But if the Government allows faith schools to opt out of providing accurate, evidence-based RSE to their pupils, that is exactly what is going to happen.
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