Today, in a speech, the Prime Minister laid out the blueprint for a significant policy that will address some of the burning injustices she says her administration is going to tackle. She aims to repeal the ban on selective schools, and has said that grammar schools should take large quotas of poorer pupils, and that new grammar schools should sponsor failing schools and establish primary schools of their own.
New grammar schools will give working class kids the same chances as their middle class peers. The present comprehensive system is superficially fair, but they hide huge inequalities, where selection exists on a mass scale but based on a postcode lottery. Rich families are able to buy property near well performing schools, whereas working class families are trapped in a cycle, without the social mobility and meritocracy this government now appears to be championing. Contrast this with grammar schools, which give talented students the ability to reach the full height of their potential, and achieve better prospects for themselves and their families in future life, no matter their background.
However, included in her revolutionary educational reforms is the plan to expand faith schools so they can select 100% pupils based on their parent’s religion. Presently faith schools can only select 50% of pupils based on their faith, however due to ‘demand’ and ‘popularity’ Theresa May wishes to abolish this limit. The proposal put forward by Theresa May betrays the charge of tackling the very injustices and divisions in society she identifies, by creating whole new ones.
100% faith schools have nothing to contribute to an integrated and healthy secular society, especially one that has seen religiosity and religious participation decrease dramatically. Supporters say they increase parent’s choice and the quality of available education for their children. The fact is that faith schools do not offer any sort of choice and for many parents they reduce choice and act as a barrier against social mobility. It is extraordinary that in a largely post-religious UK, one that prides itself on secularism and diversity and tolerance, the new government is hoping to establish disunity and segregation in education based on parent’s faith.
The evidence could not be clearer: discrimination by religion compounds social selection and gives rise to segregation in class, by race and even gender. Richer children go to faith schools, not poorer working class children. Again, supporters say that catholic schools are more ethnically diverse than many schools. Perhaps, they can find certain data to manipulate the narrative, but most faith schools are in urban areas, and urban areas happen to be more ethnically diverse than rural state schools, but when compared to ordinary state schools in the same area they are dramatically less diverse.
Many faith schools admissions policies favour those from more affluent backgrounds over children from poorer background. Although grammar schools will be vigorously instructed to take in poorer students, creating a whole new ladder for social mobility, faith schools by unchecked selection will kick the ladder from its position.
These new faith schools, which will attract richer families, will be able to stamp out diversity in the classroom, by having an intake of 100% of people form the same faith. I fear that little good can come from teaching children the dogma of one worldview without society experiencing the fallout in future decades.
If Theresa May and her administration are truly serious about tackling the burning injustices of modern society, a headache of globalisation, she needs to rid the divisions and social injustices that already exist, not create new ones based on faith. That’s why, although modern meritocratic grammar schools have a place in 21st century Britain, selective and discriminatory faith schools do not.