DIOCESE OF EAST ANGLIA PROPOSALS FOR A ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIMARY SCHOOL IN GUNHILD WAY
A SUBMISSION BY THE CAMBRIDGE HUMANIST GROUP
The Cambridge Humanist Group welcomes this opportunity to comment on the Roman Catholic Church’s proposals for the new Primary School in Gunhild Way.
We note that the Catholic Church is offering to provide a school with “a clear Christian ethos”. The school will “integrate the teachings of Jesus Christ into learning, teaching and school life”, and Religious Education will be “in accordance with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church”. The aim will be “to prepare young people for their lives as Christians in the community”.
We would have no objection if the sole motive of the Catholic Church in seeking to run the new school was to offer children a good education for its own sake, but this is clearly not the case. The Church evidently intends to encourage children to adopt Christian beliefs and sees this as a priority for the new school. We are opposed to any attempts to mould the beliefs of children in this way, and we see no good reason why any particular religion should be promoted at the taxpayer’s expense.
There is very little support for religious schools among the general population. For example, an ICM poll in 2005 found that 64% of adults agreed that the government should not fund religious schools. And a further ICM poll in July 2010 found that 73% of people living in our region were concerned or very concerned about public money being used to promote a particular religion or belief.
Nevertheless, we note the desire of some Catholics living locally that their children should attend a Catholic school. However, the Catholic Church’s figures for the number of baptisms in the two local parishes show a steep decline in the number of baptisms from 124 in 2006 to 88 in 2009. Assuming that this trend continues, there will – on the Church’s own figures – be no Catholic baptisms at all in these parishes by 2016. We therefore cannot understand why a school built at public expense should be given to the Diocese of East Anglia to meet a demand for Catholic education when that demand will almost entirely disappear within 15 years of the school opening.
The Catholic Church’s admissions policy for the new school is clearly discriminatory. Priority for admission will be given to the children of Catholic parents even if they live further away from the school than other children.
We oppose such discrimination as a matter of principle. Children should not suffer discrimination on the basis of their parent’s religion (or lack of it). Children receive their beliefs from their parents just as they receive their race and their gender from their parents. It is therefore every bit as wrong to discriminate against a child on religious grounds as it is to discriminate against a child on grounds of race or gender.
Government statistics show that religious schools not only discriminate against children because of their parent’s religion, they also discriminate against children from deprived families and against children with special needs. Information gathered by the Department of Education in 2005 shows that while 20.1% of children in community primary schools were eligible for free school meals, only 15.6% of children in Catholic primary schools were eligible. Similarly, although 18.9% of children in community primary schools have special educational needs, only 16% of children in religious primary schools have special needs. Such discrimination is, in our opinion, immoral.
We note the Catholic Church’s claim that “the beliefs and values shared in Catholic schools require them to value equally all children and enable them to fulfil their individual potential”. However, it is clear from the Department of Education’s statistics that the Catholic Church is failing to live up to this aspiration.
Moreover, we note the Catholic Church’s proposal that the new school should be Voluntary Aided. The school would thus be free to discriminate against potential employees on the basis of their religious beliefs (or lack of them). We are opposed to all such discrimination – and most people agree with us. For example, a YouGov poll in June 2009 found that 72% of adults agreed or strongly agreed that all state funded schools should operate recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on grounds of religion or belief.
Recent research from the LSE confirms that the test results achieved in religious primary schools are only marginally better than those achieved in community schools, and that this small advantage is entirely due to the selection procedures operated by religious schools. Such schools tend to select by social class, having a clear bias towards the children of aspiring middle-class parents. In the same way, ambitious and resourceful parents seek out schools with good reputations. As The Office of the Schools Adjudicator has said, the only reason religious schools outperform neighbouring community schools is because they select from church-going families. This situation is clearly undesirable in itself, and the selection which results disadvantages both working-class children and the genuine community schools which are not allowed to discriminate in their admissions policies.
We do not accept that a religious school “brings a community together” as the Catholic Church claims. On the contrary, it is clearly the case that religious schools are divisive and that they actively undermine community cohesion. Experience shows that to segregate people on the basis of their religion leads inevitably to mutual misunderstanding and carries grave social risks. The case of Northern Ireland, where the separation of Catholic and Protestant schools has played a significant role in perpetuating the sectarian divide, is a particularly stark example.
We believe that the community will suffer if children are educated separately on the basis of their parent’s religious beliefs. If a child’s friends and peers at school are mostly (or wholly) of the same religion, that child will rarely meet children from other backgrounds. The result will be ignorance and mistrust, not understanding and tolerance. We firmly believe that the cohesion of society is best served by inclusive community schools where all children can learn with – and about – each other.
The Case for an Inclusive Community School
State funded schools should be open to the whole community. They should not be allowed to discriminate against either pupils or staff on religious grounds – all such discrimination is unjust. Moreover, although schools now have a statutory duty to promote community cohesion, religious schools do little to meet this obligation. This is regrettable and yet unsurprising. Religious schools are inherently divisive.
The Queen Edith Community Federation has put forward proposals for a genuine community school. To quote from their submission, “We believe that such a school, grounded in strong democratic moral values, welcoming children of all religious faiths and none, is best equipped to meet parental demand in this highly diverse, multi-cultural area of Cambridge City.”
We fully support the Queen Edith Community Federation’s aspirations. Religious schools are unpopular, discriminatory and divisive, and we urge the Council to reject the Catholic Church’s proposals.