Jan 2007 Journal

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No quotas for faith schools - but, better still, no faith schools

What a kerfuffle there was a few months back when the government wanted to introduce quotas in faith schools. Their bid failed but, if I had my way, I would abolish faith schools altogether. Like probably the rest of you, we do not have children of school age but, fortunately, we have school-going grandchildren, and thus my interest in the subject.

Faith schools, I believe, are divisive. Why should there be schools to which only Jews can go - or only Christians or only Muslims? We live in Great Britain. What has our religion to do with our general education? Yes, of course there should be time spent having religious education, but surely English language, English literature, mathematics, science, foreign languages, history and geography are more important - and a case could be made that art, music and sport are equally important.

What has one's religion to do with one's general learning? If parents feel that their children should have a strong religious education then the children should be taught religion at home, or at their synagogue, church or mosque. Faith schools, by their very nature, make children insular. They teach them that they are different from the norm. Why does the Jewish male pupil have to wear a yarmulka? In polite British society men remove their hats indoors - not don them! Jack Straw doesn't want Muslim women to wear the veil because he thinks it inappropriate in this country. Seeing Jewish ultra-orthodox pupils coming out of school wearing their peculiar garb is equally inappropriate. What they are implying is that 'We are not truly British'.

I was the only Jew at my school in Northamptonshire. I bless my late father for deciding, with my headmaster, that I should not be treated differently from the other boys, so I went to chapel every morning and, when I became a school prefect, I read the lesson. However, my parents did not let me forget that I was a Jew. I had a barmitzvah (even though my nearest synagogue was 23 miles away) and, when I went to Oxford University, the first thing I did was join the Jewish society and find myself a nice Jewish girl! I married a Jew and, though we are in no ways religious, we maintain our Jewish traditions. I also sat on our synagogue council for seven years.

However, I strongly believe in assimilation. I don't like Jewish golf clubs because I do not consider myself different from my Christian friends. Some of my best friends are Christians! I was a school governor at an independent girls' school in a part of north-west London where many rich Muslims live. We didn't notice the growth of Muslim pupils attending the school until the bursar told us they made up over 60 per cent of all girls. So what, you might ask. So the Muslim parents began to feel that the school was a Muslim one and not the English school to which they believed they were sending their daughters. Inevitably, the intake of Muslims fell, a shortage arose, and I recently saw that the school was advertising in the Jewish Chronicle!

You may argue that in the case of the Jewish schools in particular, the examination results are excellent. Well, yes they are, but that is because the children attending them come from homes that believe in education. Furthermore, they have been heavily vetted before being allowed to become pupils - something that happened when we had grammar schools but, sadly, not now under the comprehensive system. Chances are that they would do equally well in any good school. No, I dislike the concept of faith schools but - and this is most important - I don't ever let my grandchildren forget they are Jewish.
Peter Phillips

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