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27 July 2012

Faith schools: the debate continues

Faith schools: the debate continues

In response to The Telegraph's article published on 19 July: Free schools have to pass our most rigorous exams, the Evangelical Alliance wrote a letter to the paper setting out why it is wrong to label evangelical Christians as extremists. The letter was not published however, it is available to read here. Graham Coyle from The Christian Schools Trust offers some insights into the faith schools debate.

If evangelical Christians are half as dangerous as people seem to think we are then the British public should be very worried indeed. This is especially true in the case of those of us involved with running schools; particularly those hotbeds of radicalism over reason, faith schools. At least this appears to be the view held by Alan Judd, an advisor to Michael Gove in his recent article in The Telegraph.

He is concerned that people such as us or me for that matter, will not be responsible and will restrict the life choices of young people to a narrow band of possibilities, hedged in by sectarian and non-mainstream views, all at the expense of the public purse. Whilst we must always learn from the errors which give rise to such criticism in broad terms he could not be more mistaken.

Firstly, it is plain to see that despite the fact that one in three children in the land are taught in church schools, they are not responsible for a tide of Christian extremism sweeping the nation. Would that we did see a greater influence on the lives of those pupils who no doubt, would be helped by being more effectively informed about a loving Father who never lies to them, never disregards their feelings and never fails to have their best interests as His highest motive. However, the charge of undermining the stability of society through these schools cannot be made to stick.

Secondly, there have long been groups of Christian parents and teachers setting up and running successful independent schools. These schools have not been paid for by the government or by wealthy benefactors, they have been established and sustained through the hard work, sacrifice and sheer passionate determination of those involved. Not wealthy people, just ordinary people who have decided to find a different way of educating their children.

If these were a flash in the pan then their effectiveness could be dismissed but many of these schools are now into their third or fourth decade. They are in settings ranging from inner London, Bradford and Manchester to Worcester, Trowbridge and Witney. They have been well judged by the government's own standards of inspection and examination and former pupils successfully pursue a wide variety of career paths.

Far from shackling children's minds by teaching only one point of view, they have helped them approach life with an open, accepting, enquiring, compassionate and stable mindset. These schools express in reality what the free schools policy is supposed to deliver; parents and communities taking responsibility for their children to give them the best all-round education that they can.

If the free schools that the government is paying for are still around in 30 or 40 years' time and still delivering all that they said that they would, then well done to all involved. How though, is that different to what the dangerous, evangelical Christians have done and why are the government so reluctant to fund it?

Graham Coyle is a teacher at The River School, Worcester and part of the leadership team of The Christian Schools Trust. He is also part of the Evangelical Alliance's, Forum for Change Education Cluster.