Secularism in education: Birmingham and Stamford Hill

It was often noted, with regard to the schools under scrutiny in Birmingham, that they were not faith schools, and thus had a duty to provide a secular education. But this distinction between secular and faith schools can be challenged.  Should our state schools be required to provide an act of religious (usually Christian) worship? (I’m with the National Secular Society on this.) And just how much latitude should be allowed to those being educated privately, perhaps at home?

Tonight’s Dispatches opened with a recap of the ‘Trojan Horse’ story. An investigation of the Tauheedul schools certainly revealed some eccentric practices – it was alleged pupils were strongly discouraged from clapping – but equally odd things also go on at, for example, Steiner schools. More serious was a reminder of a (still disputed) claim about Park View in Birmingham. A teacher whose identity was concealed asserted that, despite denials from the school, an R.E. worksheet had taught children that wives have to obey their husbands.

Christian schools were only touched on in passing, but there was an interesting report on ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools in London. As reported here in the past, a Jewish girls’ school had required that some questions be redacted from public exams (a practice which has now been clamped down on).  Dispatches went undercover to investigate illegal (because unregistered) yeshivot, and aired disturbing claims about their narrow teaching. Boys were filmed arriving early and leaving late from schools that officially do not even exist. A former student, whose identity was hidden, claimed he was taught to look down on non-Jews, and told that everything outside his community was bad. He complained that he had been robbed of an education.  This article by Andrew Gilligan provides some further background to the programme.