Tony Blair's Recipe for Intolerance; as Fears Mount over Racial Segregation, a Labour Grandee States the Case against Faith Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: ROY HATTERSLEY

Let us give the Home Secretary credit for at least wanting to reduce the racial tensions which disfigure our society.

Unfortunately, in this wicked world, good intentions are not enough.

Caught between what he knows to be common sense and his desire to placate the Prime Minister's prejudices, David Blunkett has become party to a policy which is likely to intensify the crisis he wishes to end.

The reports into race riots in Bradford and Burnley are explicit about their causes. The ethnic minorities - particularly Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs - feel detached from mainstream society. It is madness to intensify their isolation by encouraging the creation of faith schools.

Segregated religious education is the last thing our divided nation needs.

Religion has always played a part in English education. Some of our most prestigious public schools are Church of England foundations. And as soon as Catholic, Jews and Quakers won the proper rights of a free society, they followed suit.

More recently, Muslims, anxious that their children should learn the Koran, set up Islamic colleges. But, until now, faith schools have provided only a tiny proportion of our national education, meeting the needs of the committed minority.

But most of us rely on state schools which are careful not to impose any one belief on impressionable minds.

The municipal grammar school where I spent seven years, long before the idea of comprehensive education, got the balance about right. I remember reading the lesson in assembly - Revelations Chapter 21: 'Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth and the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and were no more.' Even at 18 I knew that was an ethical statement about the better Britain that would follow the Second World War. And my teachers told me that, although I was reading from the Christian Bible, the message and moral applied to every faith. Nobody suggested there was anything superior about my point of view, and that is how it should be.

For more than 100 years, that sort of religious education has been practised in state schools - an act of nondenominational worship in the morning and study of either the Bible or some other devotional work each week. But there is no attempt to create pious Catholics, devout Anglicans, conscientious Quakers or genuine Jews. Even the Church of England primary schools - which have survived since the 1870s - do little more than take pupils to church on feast days and invite the local vicar to take the occasional lesson.

English education is basically secular or multi-faith. Until Tony Blair had the idea of extending faith schools, handing education to the religions was almost universally regarded as the quick way to divide society. …