In twenty-first century Britain, more people than ever claim to be unaffiliated with a religion. Why then, are so many of our schools still associated with a certain religious group? Arguably, the significant number of primarily Anglican and Catholic schools would teach doctrines that are no longer relevant to children of non-religious families. However, religious schools have not lost their popularity as British society has become more secular, with many parents still choosing religious schools over non-religious schools. This seems to suggest that many parents do not see a school’s religion, even though it may be different to their own non-religious beliefs, as contradictory to their sense of morals and values.
Although this fact is rarely mentioned in our contemporary society, religion has historically been a significant factor in an individual’s socialisation into the society which they live in. Modern secularity can be viewed as just a more developed form of religion, in which a firm belief in a central figure such as “God” has been replaced by a more open view of spirituality. The legacy of Britain’s thousand year history of Christianity is still deeply imprinted on our society’s psyche, affecting our view of the world even if we have never directly experienced Christianity in its traditional form. Many of the morals and values British society and citizens place importance on come directly from Christian Protestantism, such as the belief in generosity and compassion, to name a few. Thus, it is not surprising that many people do not find a conflict between their secular beliefs and the beliefs of a Christian Protestant school.
Nowadays, many non-religious families are not only amenable to the idea of sending their child to a religious school, but are actually keen to do so as these schools often do better academically. They benefit from increased resources as a result of investment from the religion they are affiliated with, and are often older and more established than their non-religious counterparts. In light of this, it is not surprising that many parents are happy to send their children to religious schools, as they believe a better school will improve their child’s chances in life. However, this raises the question of whether religious schools should be allowed to only take children who belong to the same religion. Whilst Anglican schools often have little objection to children from multiple faiths, Catholic, Jewish and Islamic schools often take a much harder line against accepting pupils of a different or no faith. Whilst at my Catholic sixth form, I remember my school being ordered by the council to take more non-Catholic children. They campaigned against this order vigorously with the argument that it infringed on their religious freedom to teach Catholicism to the next generation of Catholics. Despite being well-intentioned, this exclusive attitude creates division between children of different faiths, preventing children from being exposed to the multicultural and multi-religious reality of twenty-first century Britain.
Though English Christianity is developing into a more secular form, the number of people in Britain who belong to a religious minority is arguably rising. In an era where we want to encourage integration, religious schools that strictly enforce selective protocols based on religion seem an unnecessary barrier to social integration between different groups in British society. Religious integrity is not threatened by being around people of other religions; if anything, it strengthens a person’s understanding of their own religion by confronting them with difference. Thus, though religious schools in themselves are not inherently bad, they should be encouraged to take people of different religions in order to promote friendships between people of different faiths early on in a person’s life.
By Nicole Howlett
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