20 September 2007

Last week the Labour government and several religions in Britain put out a document, Faith in the system. This supports more tax-funded faith schools. See the document here and the launch here.

Some children are sent to different schools at age five because of their parents’ genuine or claimed religious beliefs. We are told that this segregation fosters community cohesion. This view is drivelling nonsense.

Religiously segregating people doesn’t promote social cohesion. It is divisive. You do not increase mutual understanding through segregation; you do not unite people by separating them; you do not get cohesion and integration in society by religious apartheid. Indeed, is not segregation more likely to lead to failures of understanding and to social disunity?

Cohesion and a sense of common belonging are better fostered in education by having children learn and play alongside one another every day and experience their differences and, more importantly, the many things that they share in common. That mutatis mutandis applies to the adult world too.

This week the Commission for Racial Equality, about to be subsumed in a new all-embracing commission, published a final report, A lot done, a lot to do. In that they say that “our society is fracturing” and “segregation – residentially, socially, and in the workplace – is growing.” They do not examine whether religiously segregated education places a part in that fracturing. The new commission should.

Incidentally, a recent report by Rebecca Allen and Anne West shows that faith schools in London select a disproportion of pupils from better-off homes.