A statement by London
Development Education Centre and South Asia Solidarity Group.
New Labour is proposing that all new schools
will be either funded by private companies or be single faith schools.
some of us who are sick of the poor resources, low standards and racism in
many comprehensive schools, this may seem like an answer. But we believe that
single faith schools will mean more discrimination and less resources. They
will cause deeper divisions in the Black communities, and a greater
stranglehold of the most conservative, anti-women and communal individuals
over our children's education and over our communities as a whole. David
Blunkett's recent comments about the children of asylum seekers 'swamping'
state schools only confirm the racism underlying New Labour's education
The principles of comprehensive
education are already being undermined by growing inequalities between
comprehensive schools. Schools which are in areas which are predominantly
Black or Asian are often the worst off in resources and standards.
Church of England, Roman Catholic and Jewish
schools have been in existence for more than a hundred years. In recent times
the waiting lists for these schools have increased dramatically and Church
schools in particular are in the privileged position of being able to be
selective in choosing the children to go to their schools. This in turn has
raised performance in religious schools. Selecting students for both academic
ability and for their backgrounds not only puts the focus on producing and
moulding students of a particular type, but also violates the principle of
equal access to education for all irrespective of background and ability.
From an economic point of view the emphasis on
single faith schools releases the government by a cunning sleight of hand from
having to fulfil any of their electoral promises on education and from their
responsibility to provide a decent and high quality public service. Unlike
comprehensives, single faith schools are only partially funded by the state.
At present recognised faith schools are required to fund 15 % of their capital
expenditure; under the new proposals only 10 % will be required. This may
appear to be an increase in public spending however minimal. But in reality it
is designed as a substitute for the much greater investment which would be
required if the government were to improve and maintain standards of education
for the vast majority of students who will continue to attend Comprehensives
Divide and Rule Strategy
From the 1970s onwards the State used policies
of 'multiculturalism' to fund and nurture community organisations in urban
areas with significant Asian and African Caribbean populations. In this way
Black organisations with radical agendas were encouraged to identify not as
Black but as belonging to one of the 'ethnic minority' communities. Black
populations were reconstructed as communities with leaders who were
politically acceptable to the state.
Multiculturalism was effectively a divide and
rule strategy. At first, for example, the 'ethnic minority communities' were
defined as 'Asian' and 'Afro-Caribbean', later essentially linguistic - e.g.
Gujarati, Punjabi, or in the case of Caribbean's, based around island of
origin - and since the late nineties they have been increasingly centred
around religion, through the notion of 'Faith Communities'. At the same time,
any discussion of religion or faith in Britain is currently taking place in
the context of virulent anti-Muslim racism. US policies which have identified
Islam as the new 'enemy' of western 'civilisation' have fed into the racism
experienced by people in working class Asian communities in Britain, with
Muslims increasingly demonised as fanatical and violent over the last decade.
Policing women's behaviour
For the Asian community in Britain, Labour's
decision to extend single-faith state schools among ethnic minorities,
especially in deprived areas, is a continuation of its policy of strengthening
the most reactionary elements in the community. In the first state-sponsored
Sikh school in the country, students are taught about their 'culture' and the
'values' of the Sikh religion, including a 'modest' dress code for the women.
As Fabbeh Husein from Bradford college puts it, "Faith schools are more
about regulating the sexuality of the female than developing intellectual
power and thinking." For girls, single-faith schools can become yet
another agency that polices their behaviour. Who defines these so-called
values and culture? The British state is once again identifying Asian
tradition and values with those of the patriarchal forces within the community
and excluding other voices that challenge these stereotypes.
Having identified male religious leaders as the
representatives of the community, Labour aims to give them access to the minds
of our children in the hope of silencing the very real demands for better
resources, jobs and services in deprived and long-neglected inner cities. This
initiative goes hand in hand with the wider government strategy of using
multiculturalism in order to appear to address concerns about racism without
actually taking any concrete steps to tackle the issue through changing the
laws on immigration, reining in the rhetoric about asylum seekers or tackling
widespread institutional racism.
After the disturbances in Oldham, Bradford and
other cities last summer, one of the problems that was identified in those
communities was the extreme segregation in education, with schools being
almost all-white or all-Asian. In research carried out among school students
studying in ethnically mixed schools like the George Mitchell Secondary School
in Waltham Forest, almost all the students expressed their opposition to
single-faith schools because they wanted to mix with and learn about people
who held different beliefs. What we need to do is to celebrate the diversity
within our schools and not erase it.
Asian communities which are
already ghettoised - with pupils already in the worst of comprehensives - are
likely to be divided among themselves on the basis of religious difference
with Asian children growing up to distrust each other when they come from
different religious backgrounds.
Single faith schools - a second class education
for our children
The state is going to require only 10 % from
faith schools of their capital. Institutions like the Church of England and
the Roman Catholic Church have substantial resources, and can raise more funds
from their very wealthy patrons for their schools. We do not believe that
ethnic minority communities will have that kind of financial muscle to
continuously fund separate religious schools for many more years to come.
Consequently in the long term the non-Christian schools are likely to be
relegated to underdevelopment. The State will gradually consign our schools to
neglect, indifference and discrimination.
Some Asian parents feel that these schools will
also 'protect' their children, especially their daughters, from western
influences. But children cannot and should not be isolated from the society
they live in. A genuinely good education should instead encourage them to make
their own decisions with confidence.
Currently many parents think Single Faith
schools are the answer to problems of racism and racist attacks in school,
lack of resources and poor quality education. But in fact the majority of
single faith schools will be poorly resourced and discriminated against and
encourage the creation of second-class education. They
will increase the power of the most reactionary religious leaders by giving
them control over our children's education and making us dependent on their
approval for places for our children in these schools. People who are not
religious will be excluded. Finally they will deepen the divisions along
religious lines which are already tearing our communities apart.
Single faith schools are not the answer. We have
a right to a better education within the comprehensive system and we must
fight for it!
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