The education secretary Justine Greening this week spoke at a gathering of head teachers. She reiterated the position of this government to expand both grammar schools and faith schools.
Much of the focus has been on the government’s commitment to grammar schools. Quite right that this should be scrutinised. It is hard to see the thinking of May and her cabinet on this. Most pupils attend local comprehensive’s. Surely if you truly wanted to boost attainment this would be the area of focus. Michael Gove’s approach of introducing more rigour into the curriculum and expanding the academy program to me was the correct one.
If we renewed focus on core subjects, Math’s, Science, History etc. Made moves to cut class sizes and importantly reintroduced discipline we would be well on our way to having a world-class education system. I mention discipline at the end, as I believe it is of utmost importance, we have become too soft on dealing with delinquent children who monopolise the attention of teachers in some of the more challenging comprehensive’s.
For me the biggest issue with this governments education policy is its commitment to expand faith schools. Faith schools now account for around a third of publicly funded schools. Coming from a Muslim background where I have seen the invisible wall which separates so many of our communities, I am absolutely convinced this is an issue which must be looked at again.
The argument made by the national secular society is that the expansion of faith schools seriously limits the choice of parents who do not want a religious education for their children. We all pay taxes therefore public services should not be for the exclusive use of sub sections of our society.
For me though the biggest argument for a secular education is the fact that first and foremost it benefits those children who would otherwise be forced into environments which close them off from the rest of society. The country we live is diverse, we need to teach future generations to focus not on the things that divide us, instead on the things we all have in common. This idea of multiculturism for me needs to be killed off. It needs replacing with a new sense of identity (Ideally outward looking not nationalistic). An identity based on the shared belief in freedom of speech, freedom of thought and liberty.
Too many of us live in our closed communities and have little understanding of those who come from different backgrounds. I know this is certainly true in the Muslim community I grew up in. You can now grow up in Britain and spend your entire life not interacting with people from other communities. Even in my family I know there are members who do not have a single white Non-Muslim friend. I am sure the reverse is also true for many of other backgrounds. Although most people are decent and tolerant I would be lying if I said growing up I hadn’t witnessed the bigotry this problem has caused.
This is a disaster waiting to happen. In many ways, we are already seeing a polarisation come to the fruition. If we do not address this issue and make moves to break down the invisible walls that divide us, we will see this get worse. In twenty to thirty years’ time we may see sectarian society and the rise of type of identity politics we see in the middle east. Promoting a secular education although not a silver bullet, will certainly move us in the right direction.