Posted by: secretperson | January 11, 2008

Balls on Education: Faith Schools out, 18 year olds in.

Ed Balls writes that faith schools are no longer favoured as once they were under Labour. Good. Although I support more freedom for schools from central government, taxpayers money should not be funding religious indoctrination. Education should be about facts not opinions. Schools should teach about religion not that one religion is true, in exactly the same way they should teach about politics, not that Labour is good.

Faith schools were supported because they got good results, and possibly because Tony Blair was a religious ‘nutter’. Now they are worried about encouraging Islamic extremism, and adversely affecting ‘community cohesion’ (I hate that phrase). Wonder why it took them so long to work out that separating children by religion wouldn’t help ‘interfaith understanding’. As long as they don’t go the other way and encourage cohesion with American style busing of kids to schools. Forcing people away from their local community won’t help either. What might help is an education that includes critical thinking, examining facts from all sides of an argument and reaching your own conclusions. Make children less likely to be brainwashed by islamic extremists or crazy politicians.

The reason faith schools were successful is the same reason independent and grammar schools are successful – schools able to choose their pupils can choose the best ones. No one has ever quite convinced me that selection by academic ability is unfair and elitist, but selection by income or faith is acceptable. I’m still hoping for a Cameron u-turn on grammar schools.

In a comment piece in the Telegraph Mr Balls tries to sell the government’s policy of making education compulsory up to the age of 18. A bad idea, in my book. Kids who are failed by the system by 16, will not benefit from two more years of schooling. Forced to stay there they sill be disruptive and other’s education will be negatively affected.

The other option is work with a day of training a week. People not in education should be working anyway, and training should be left to employers. Surely an employer who can only get four days a week work from a 16 year old will instead turn to one of the more educated, more experienced immigrants who the government imports to ‘do the work British people won’t do’. Apparently “the number of unskilled jobs in our economy is set to fall from 3.4 million to 600,000 by 2020”. So will that mean serious cuts on these immigrants (which of course means leaving the EU)? No it’ll mean removing unemployed young people from the statistics by registering them at a school they are probably truanting from.

Now just to pick apart a few choice politicians phrases:
Opposing diplomas (easier than A-levels; is that possible?) in Maths, Science etc means
“In other words, “excellence” should be available only for a few”. Umm, yes excellence for all by giving easier qualifications designed for vocational subjects in academic ones.

He concludes
“They will send a message to young people that a large number of their MPs believe that, at 16, they should be left to sink or swim.”
No Mr Balls, not left to sink or swim, there is still education and training available, it just wouldn’t be compulsory. People who choose employment at 16 have chosen that. That’s right, sometimes people don’t need telling what do. Not bossing people around is hardly the same as abandoning them.

The irony of accusing the Tories of elitism and not valuing vocational qualifications is that is Labour do not value vocational qualifications. Why would people taking up trades be forced to instead gain a certificate in that trade instead of more beneficial learning on the job? Because academic education is being more favoured than vocational work. Why must more and more people go to university? Because university means you are better. The idea of opening opportunity for all is laudable, the idea of forcing everyone to take the opportunity you have deemed best is not. People are different with different needs, give them the freedom to choose.

In conclusion, don’t indoctrinate children with religious nonsense (and remove the requirement for an act of daily worship while you are at it). Forcing people to be “in education” may remove them from unemployment lists, but actually “educating” people is a much more worthwhile goal.



  1. As much as facts, education is about teaching truth. No ideology or creed has a monopoly on truth: neither formal religions, empirical scientists nor secular humanists. If you banned all religious education and expression from schools, you’d be stunting children’s free enquiry after truth, and their right to find out about a fundamental aspect of human societies and culture.

  2. you make a great pt saying, “As long as they don’t go the other way and encourage cohesion with American style busing of kids to schools. Forcing people away from their local community won’t help either”

    fortunately this busing stopped for the most part. but you are right that we shouldve emphasized working within the constructs of our natural geographical locales.

    yet, the problem in USA was that all the white people moved out of the cities in the 50s because they didnt want to live with black people. this is extremely sad. so i do understand why busing seemed to be a good idea. with that said, i am not sure there is a good solution to interfaith/interrace/internation/etc.

    people just naturally associate with their own kind.


  3. David – of course religious education should not be banned. But all religions should be taught as religions, not one as truth. And I would argue empirical scientists have the best claim to truth, as being the only one to rely on evidence. Secular humanism seems to be christianity-light without the God.

  4. Peter – not only does busing and related forced integration not help interrace of interfacial relations, it is probably actively bad by promoting a backlash. A good education should be the aim, and I am sure that can only help reduce prejudice.

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