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Are our faith schools dividing communities?
PROFESSOR Ted Cantle, author of reports into community cohesion in both Burnley and Blackburn with Darwen, is certain faith schools add to the problems of segregation in East Lancashire and nationwide.
He said: “I have no doubt such problems partly caused by schools where admissions are characterised by ethnicity are made worse when pupils are chosen by religion or Christian denomination.
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“You only have to look at the problems of Northern Ireland, where 96 per cent of children go to segregated faith schools, to see the worst consequences.
“I feel that the growth of faith education in East Lancashire will worsen the problems of people from different communities living ‘parallel lives’ I first highlighted after the Burnley riots in 2001. ”
His view is echoed by National Union of Teachers’ Blackburn with Darwen branch secretary Simon Jones but disputed by Lisa Fenton, Blackburn Church of England Diocese’s senior adviser to schools.
Richard Varey, head of a large Roman Catholic secondary in Burnley, also believes a proper faith education benefits children from all backgrounds.
Miss Fenton said: “Church schools have been providing excellent education within a clear framework of Christian values to all members of the local community for hundreds of years.
“They are places where the curriculum is rich with experiences that will develop the child spiritually, morally, socially and culturally.
“Church schools strive to ensure that every child in their care flourishes both academically and as a whole person, preparing them for life in this ever changing and challenging world.
“In church schools,children and young people are encouraged to ask, explore and discover answers to life’s big questions.”
Mr Varey, head of Blessed Trinity RC College where 65 per cent of the 1,200 pupils are Roman Catholics, said: “I believe we provide a good education for all pupils. That applies whether they are Catholics or not.
"Our faith in Jesus underpins our teaching and benefits all our pupils. We do not select on faith alone and we teach about other faiths and denominations and about the importance of diversity and tolerance.”
Mr Jones said: “I agree with Professor Cantle. I believe faith schools add to the problems of segregation. would prefer a system without them. It applies to different Christian denominations — look at Northern Ireland to see the problems there.
“I know of RC schools where only fish was served on Friday and pupils were told not to go to Bonfire Nights because Guy Fawkes was a Catholic.
“Equally, there are evangelical Christian schools where tombolas are banned from fund-raising fetes as gambling, and where creationism is taught instead of evolution in science, all of which are unacceptable to me.”
Tehmina Kazi , director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, featured in the programme with Professor Cantle.
She said: “Where faith schools do not select pupils on religion alone and teach about tolerance, diversity and other cultures they can play a valuable role.
“But some faith schools take a much narrower view and they can worsen segregation, division and, in some cases, cause hatred.”