Faith schools needed to live in the real world

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STEVE CANAVAN: The case of the 'kitchen' door is open and shut

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The recent High Court ruling that councils are breaking the law if they insist on having Christian prayers at meetings has further fuelled the debate over the position of religion in society.

The subtext to this debate is the interface between religion with politics. Faith schools have been in the front line of this discourse for years. School transport, admissions, inclusivity, the compulsory ‘broadly Christian act of worship’ and the connection between religion and state, have all been areas of contention.

The latest, the omission of RE in the English Baccalaurate (award for set of five GCSEs) has angered many.

Faith-based schools are part of the genetic make-up of our educational system. Churches and the religious have been running schools for generations. A significant historic investment, which continues today in many faith communities, has left a legacy that benefits thousands of students.

Most faith schools are oversubscribed, and – despite popular misconception – in the Catholic sector they are more culturally diverse than their council-controlled cousins.

Faith schools have a unique ethos that pervades every aspect of school life.

In a Catholic school this is based on the mission of the church and the teachings of Jesus Christ. This creates a values structure that is sought after by parents.

RE is part of the offer. For some students this will develop a deepening of faith, for others it will be the cultural reference point linking various disciplines.

It is the combination of faith and religion that allows young people to face an increasingly secular world, the richness of a multi-cultural society, challenges posed by pluralism.

Politicians and the religious have a responsibility to ensure students learn religious belief is varied. It can take the centre ground, or be at the margins and when mixed with an ideological political cause it can produce a lethal cocktail.