Faith Schools in England

I think it’s fair to say that my school experience has been a very diverse one. Of school types, I’ve had about one of each. I started in a non-religious private school for elementary, went to a Lutheran school for middle school, a Catholic school for high school, and then rounded it out with a public school for university. Mind you, all of this while having a very non-religious family. This all being what it is, I suppose it makes sense why the British school system would be so interesting to me.

St Philip’s RC Primary school

The first time I started thinking about this topic and the difference between American and British school systems was when we were talking to some British people and they were confused by the notion of private schools. This, in turn, made me very confused because I had seen religious schools and having lived in the United States the idea of having public religious schools doesn’t really make sense to me at all. I guess that it all relates back to the fact that England has a national religion. Because the Anglican Church is nationally backed, it makes sense that they would have their own state-funded schools. I was surprised and a little impressed to find that the state also funded non-Anglican religious schools.

To be honest, it is very difficult for me to say whether it is better to have the religious schools mixed in for free or to have them, as we do in the states, separate from the state schools. This may have to do with the fact that the only reason that I ever attended private school was because it was better funded and was a better educational opportunity in my area of town. So then, what if all of the schools were funded the same, if there wasn’t really a difference in the education you received other than one also focuses on a religion? If there were no difference, then why would anyone bother going to a religious school that is not of their religion. It seems the British people agree with me. According to an article  in The Guardian, “over the past five years, when people were given a choice between a new faith school and another school opening in their area, they chose the other school a whopping 85% of the time,” and understandably so.

According to that same article, the number of faith schools, now that they are being state-funded, seems to be increasing. Now here’s where my personal bias comes in, I don’t think that having that many religious schools is necessary at all. Having some options for faith school is nice for those very religious families, I suppose, but for the rest of the population there doesn’t seem to be any benefit at all. In fact, having so many children attending faith schools might even be a problem. Speaking from experience, attending religious school when I was at an age where I couldn’t rightly think for myself was a bit confusing. It’s difficult for the teachers to separate what is truth for them personally from what is what we’d consider universal truth. In other words, they tend to present a lot of things as facts that are, in fact, actually just beliefs, things taken just on faith

Students at St. Peter’s Primary School

Apart from all of this personal opinion, the main controversy right now that surrounds the faith schools is that they have been notorious for accepting fewer students that require free school meals than other schools do. They are using their status as faith schools, the fact that they are in a different category than regular school to discriminate against students of lower socio-economic backgrounds. Not only does this create an imbalance in the schools, but it also seems to be completely contrary to the morals of nearly every religion that I’ve ever studied. Surely, they should be even more willing to take in those that are the most needy?

It seems to me that with all of this, the publically funded faith schools are more trouble than they are worth right now. Between the discrimination in admission and biased curriculum, are they worth keeping around, or should it be enough just to let your kid go to Sunday school or the like and let them go to a standard school?

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