Tuesday, March 25, 2008

BBC: ‘Schools could offer Koran classes’

It is not very often one can accuse the BBC of being anti-Islamic or unnecessarily alarmist when it comes to matters religious, but this headline quotation is an undoubted example. It is almost purposely designed to irritate ‘White Britain’ or the ‘Middle England’ of nominal Christendom.

The National Union of Teachers said that schools ‘should allow imams, rabbis and priests to offer religious instruction to pupils in all state schools’ in order to ‘reunite divided communities’. While one may be incredulous at the union’s naïveté that the descending of sundry religious leaders upon some of the nation’s schools is the solution to ‘divided communities’, it is important to note that this union specified Islam, Judaism and Christianity. When the BBC first reported this story, they singled out ‘Koran classes’ in order to ruffle a few feathers. Later on in the day, the headline was changed to ‘Call to offer faith class choice’, though it is still possible to search for it under the original provocative headline.

But this story becomes a little more interesting when one reads that the NUT said parents ‘had a right to have specific schooling in their own faith, if that was what they wanted’.

This is curious, from a teaching union which calls for faith schools to be abolished because they allegedly ‘lead to community breakdown’. But the NUT’s General Secretary, Steve Sinnott, is persuaded that offering pupils some instruction in their own faith ‘could reduce the demand for faith schools’. This provision would be ‘over and above the religious education already included in the curriculum’, possibly an after-school provision, and would be ‘more than simple religious education’.

Indeed, Mr Sinnott, you are talking about religious instruction.

He continues: "There would be real benefits to all our communities and to youngsters if we can find a space for parents who are Roman Catholic, parents who are Church of England, parents who are Jewish, parents who are Muslim for them to have space for some religious instruction. In that way we could keep cohesion within communities."

And so schools ‘could have imams coming in or local rabbis or local priests’.

Cranmer wonders what world Mr Sinnott inhabits, because there are very many schools indeed which already have priests and pastors, imams and rabbis very much involved in their everyday life. The Church of England schools are never without the very active involvement of their local vicar, and it is a prerequisite in all Roman Catholic schools that its leadership is made up of practising members of the faith. It is not only Eton College which has Anglican, Roman Catholic and Muslim chaplains, but very many state schools actively reach out to their local religious leaders who are only too happy to involve themselves in this aspect of community life.

But Cranmer has a few questions for Mr Sinnott.

If a schoolteacher approaches a church group today, (s)he probably has a rough idea of what the church is about, be they Protestant or Roman Catholic. Schools may have no problem accommodating Protestant or Roman Catholic instruction, but how will they cope with the ‘extremists’ – the Plymouth Brethren, say, or Opus Dei? How does a school handle a request from Jehovah’s Witnesses? Since schools may not discriminate (under EU law) on the basis of religious adherence, they will be legally bound to provide such extra-curricular instruction for all of their pupils’ diverse needs. And if they fail to do so, they may be open to legal challenge.

But while there may still be an awareness of the beliefs of the mainstream Christian denominations, how many teachers today have any idea of the Muslim groups? When a school asks for an imam to visit them on a regular basis to deliver religious instruction, how are teachers going to really know whether their visitors are moderate Sufis or Barelwis, or extremist Wahhabis or Salafists? Will the teachers enquire about the financing of these imams, just in case it comes from Saudi Arabia? And who will ask if they have links with foreign organisations such as the extremist Muslim Brotherhood or Jamaat-e-Islami, both of which are highly influential in the Muslim Council of Britain?

And who will monitor what the children are being taught? Will there be an unequivocal equality among the genders or respect for sexual diversity? Who will oversee this aspect of the curriculum, and who will determine what is acceptable and what is not? Will female imams be permitted, along with female priests and rabbis? And why does this teaching union completely ignore Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists?

Doubtless all those who will offer ‘Koran classes’ will profess to be ‘moderates’, but even the likes of Tariq Ramadan are lionised at Oxford while considered extreme in France. Of course there will be genuinely sincere and ‘moderate’ imams, but accurate recognition is difficult. And we are talking about our children, and their future, so there is no opportunity for a school to make mistakes.

But the NUT offers no guidance on its policy; simply that school ought to start offering extra-curricular religious instruction, and suggests that the religious leaders ought to provide it. And these leaders might well ask why they should submit themselves to sex-offender checks to assess their suitability for working with children, and why they should bother with such an inefficient, time-consuming and largely fruitless pursuit, when it is a whole lot easier to provide children with the instruction that their parents request by establishing faith schools.

The NUT ought to realise that its views are repugnant to people of all faiths, and unfathomable to many parents who simply want their children brought up within a moral framework of faith and where they will achieve good results and learn how to be rounded, respectful, considerate, and wise. Education is not simply about results; it is about values, character, social and mutual responsibility, duty and compassion - all the ingredients which, together with curriculum and teaching, go to make up the 'ethos' of a school.

Religion does not simply ‘slot in’ conveniently to suit the secular agenda of a trade union; it is all-encompassing and seeks to propagate values as well as standards. When faith is integrated into the whole life of a school, there is a richness in the study of moral, social, spiritual and religious issues which can never be found in the secular, for the one involves God, and the other does not.

Unless, that is, one can find a god who is content to be slotted in at one’s convenience, and who is utterly conformable to the fore-ordained agenda of state education, and with whom the NUT shall be well pleased.


Blogger Skin One Up said...

The example offered by the NUT, which Cranmer carefully avoids, was a Muslim school for which there was very little competition by non-Muslims. The students there are presumed to be given an undiluted Islamic view of the world and after school, it was alleged that they "went to Madrassas" presumably for more of the same.

Cranmer appears to be arguing that these children should be denied a chance to experience an alternate view.

As to the presentation of what Cranmer terms "extremists" to pupils, I can personally assure him that at secondary level these poor people would be eaten alive. There is absolutely no danger of them gaining any new mindspace, unless they possess leadership qualities which most do not.

25 March 2008 at 08:51  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mormons, Scientologists, Atheists etc?

25 March 2008 at 15:36  
Blogger Terry Hamblin said...

Churches that used to be called Plymouth Brethren seem to have mutated into community churches, often belonging to the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC). This grouping is the fastest growing Christian group in the UK. While many C of E churches limp along with congregations of under 10 it is commonplace to see FIEC congregations of over 500, often meeting in school halls, surplus B & Q warehouses and ex-Anglican buildings. While the music may not be to everyone's taste and the hand-waving seems very odd, these are very much orthodox Christian Churches in fellowship with many Anglican and Baptist churches. Because each church is independent it is difficult to assess just how large the movement is. In my experience this grouping is already well represented in schools.

25 March 2008 at 17:42  
Anonymous hear o israel said...

your grace
i fear that NUT has its strong labour supporters of the very deepest shade of godlessness.

mr sinnots attempt to make religion a subject rather than a belief is a neat trick.

abolishing religous schools , despite parents clamouring to get there children into them.

mr sinnot should do well to think on what he is saying , is he abusing his position ?? or not revealing his own stand point on religion.

they offer an exciting leap into modernity free of the shackles of crude religous teaching or belief, but offer no example of where it has worked .

he is turing culture into a darwinian lottery , favourable for his favourite species .

own goal mr sinnot on analysis , shows ignorance of your understanding of religion. unless that is you deliberately said it to create class war and divert attention form nu labours leadership problems .

25 March 2008 at 19:10  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Interesting post Your Grace. You do well to demonstrate very accurately the flaw in Sinnott's thinking: that gods can be slotted in one after the other.

BUT it is not the case that children cannot be taught to be rounded, respectful, considerate and wise outside of a religious upbringing. Secular schools can also teach such things.

The NUT is full of contradictions and your post makes them look like fools, as indeed they are...

But notice how few comments you have received today Your Grace. It must have something to do with how you began your post. Conservatives, with such varied and interesting views like you, are rare.

25 March 2008 at 20:50  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I trust Your Grace is not conflating the 'Plymouth Brethren' of Mueller & Craik lineage, (for the former of whom I have just discovered that the rather ancient biography is now freely available online at)


with the distinctly odder offshoot known often as the 'Close Brethren', as typically found in enclaves in NE Scotland and similar parts in the '50's and '60's?

That would be a great dis-service.

The current reality is much more akin to what Terry Hamblin has written above, and even in most of the 'Open Brethren' churches, some of which may still exhibit a residual quaintness, while learning and breadth might be sometimes lacking, a goodness of Spirit is often to be found that can far outshine that to be found in some of the more formal established churches

Otherwise, I am thankful that my children have benefited very much from the type of school and form of education that Your Grace has propounded

25 March 2008 at 23:28  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Germany has played with these matches and burned itself in Berlin where the Imams blacked out the windows in the classroom door, banished the teachers (often female) from the room; and proceeded to infuse the children with his observations on Jews, Christians, Germans, and non-Muslims......seems to have made for more interesting social interaction in German neighbourhoods

26 March 2008 at 16:21  
Blogger steadmancinques said...

As a 'failed-again' Christian, and a teacher of 35 years experience, my irritation at this extraordinarily ignorant suggestion is tempered by my amusement at its likely total ineffectiveness and counter-productiveness if adopted; whoever generated the idea must be one who has stuck rigidly and dutifully to 'delivering' the National Curriculum, and had no knowledge, empathy, sympathy or cynicism about children whatsoever. Children, thank God, are largely immune to indoctrination, whether from bumbling priests or ranting Imams. They can spot it (indoctrination) a mile off; it is part of that healthy sense that Hemingway described as 'the built-in bullshit factor', so useful when dealing with politicians and purveyors of the latest politically correct educational jargon.
The most effective religious teaching I ever witnessed came from a 15 year old boy, who, about 5 years ago, stood on the stage at assembly and very simply told his peers, about 250 of them, how, through his friendship with another boy who was already a Christian, he had come to God after the crisis of his parents' divorce, when he was in the depths of despair, and how he had felt the transforming power of Jesus in his life; his courage in doing so, not an easy thing for anyone, let alone a boy in this day and age caused me to reflect on my own lack of courage in proclaiming the faith; his courage and conviction shone through,his peers listened and did not mock. The assembly was a 'recruiting drive' for the Christian Union in the school; as such, it was very effective. Ubi Caritas.

29 March 2008 at 10:56  

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