No More Faith Schools – Do You Agree?

Sunday 17th October

Daniel Hall, Long Garden Walk, Farnham, GU9 7HX

Around a third of publicly funded schools are faith schools, with a wide range of abilities to discriminate based on and promote their religious ethos. These schools also influence practices across the education system. But it doesn’t need to be this way, our many fantastic community schools show how we can move towards a secular, inclusive education system.

The National Secular Society’s Alastair Lichten, talked about the Society’s No More Faith Schools campaign, along with their other education focused campaigns. The talk includes advice on activism and is engaging and informative for those with all levels of pre-existing knowledge on the subject.

Alastair Lichten is the Society’s head of education. He joined the NSS in 2014 to work on a variety of their campaigns, before focusing on education and currently coordinates the No More Faith Schools campaign.

Adam Mynott’s writes about the talk:

“No More Faith Schools – Do You Agree?”

Back in Daniel Hall for a second time since the ‘lockdown’, it was good to engage in thoughtful exchanges and debate again, and we were delighted to welcome Alastair Lichten from the National Secular Society. Alastair heads up the organisation’s challenge to faith schools. He has been with the NSS for the past 7 years working on a variety of campaigns, and he kindly brought his learning and expertise to Farnham on Sunday night, asking: ‘Do we agree with faith schools?’.

Alastair may have felt he was ‘preaching to the choir’, because his audience was, perhaps inevitably, opposed strongly to the whole idea, and this was confirmed by a degree of interactivity that he’d introduced to proceedings. We were asked by means of ‘stickit’ notes to comment on various propositions dotted around the hall and the ‘Are you Strongly Opposed to Faith Schools?’ poster was all but obliterated by stickers.

Alastair led us through the status of faith schools: a third of UK schools have a particular religious character, or a formal link with a religious organisation. It’s curious that, while the nation becomes less religious, a position which is expected to be confirmed when the results of this year’s census are released, the proportion of faith schools is creeping up. Alastair argued that this process is happening without proper scrutiny. He outlined the case against faith schools, and crucially the arguments in their favour. Of the half dozen principal cases made for faith schools, Alastair said the top two are that they give parents a choice and that faith schools achieve better results. On choice, Alastair made it clear that for many parents choice is exactly what they do not have: 20,000 pupils are assigned to faith schools against their parents’ and/or their wishes. With results, he said that factors like socio-economic distortions are often not taken into account when the true reasons for faith schools’ better performance are measured.

He went on to detail what we can do to oppose faith schools. Measures included: signing up to the NSS opposition programme; supporting their campaign; getting involved by being prepared to ‘tell your story’ to illustrate and bolster opposition; writing to MP’s; and checking with local authorities on the status of new schools.

After his talk, Alastair fielded questions on how to find out about planned new schools; tackling the issue of faith schools’ better performance more robustly; how much focus could be directed at withdrawing pupils from religious practice at faith schools; and whether the time had come for a new NSS strategy on opposing faith schools, since the current approach seemed to be struggling. Another Sunday evening of engaged Humanist debate concluded with warm applause and gratitude to Alastair Lichten for taking us through this important topic.