IN the first weeks of the summer holidays, the thoughts of school are often furthest from our minds.
Yet, when the children return to learning in September, what and how they are taught could have a massive effect on the future of our nation.
As protesters attack the police in north London and the country recovers from the recent terror attacks, a plague of discontent festers in our midst, the faith school.
In dangerous times like these when our community is being forced apart, the last thing that is needed is state-sponsored religious segregation.
Muslim, Catholic and Anglican all appear to be on the march to push their own particular brand of belief. Sadly, these schools, because of their great degree of selection, are often the highest in the league tables. They have smaller class sizes and better discipline, harking back to the glory days of education.
This makes them more desirable to parents who will stop at nothing to get their child enrolled. When I was a vicar, I always knew that when a new family appeared in Church with a four-year-old child they were looking for a ticket to send their little beloved to a Church school.
Once I had signed that piece of paper saying that the parents came to Church they would be gone for good, never to be seen again.
The child was safely in its middle-class ghetto protected from those nasty state- educated children and the parents got a private education on the cheap.
What they also got in some cases was a narrowing of the curriculum with the world seen through the lens of a particular faith.
The subtlety of the bending of the curriculum in faith schools can lead to subjects such as evolution, homosexuality, abortion and equality of the sexes being taught in a very partisan way.
This is at odds with modern Britain. This country is a diverse and pluralistic society made up of people of different faiths and with an ever-growing mass of people who don’t believe at all.
The state funding of religious schools is the least appropriate way to ensure diversity and acceptance of people – regardless of their faith or sexual orientation.
As a Christian, I believe that children of all faiths and backgrounds should be educated in a religiously neutral environment. It is not fair on young minds to pollute them with propaganda that could affect the rest of their lives. As the Jesuits said, “give me a boy to seven years old and I give you the man for life”.
It is no wonder then that radicalisation can start at an early age in some faiths. Fill a child’s head with dogma and very soon they will grow into an intolerant adult.
There should no longer be any tolerance for any places of education that do not promote full integration into our society and an acceptance of the fundamental need for diversity.
Religion only has a place in school as a subject that is being taught without any cultural or religious bias behind it. It should be taught with just the cold facts so that students know and understand the main features of a particular faith. There should never be any one faith given more time or authority than any other. School is about education and not indoctrination.
Along with this, any form of religious observance should be stopped.
The place for religion is in the church, mosque or temple and not in the school. There should never be any gender separation, forced religious observance or the outward trappings of a particular faith. Religious ghettos are not a preparation for life in a multi-cultural society.
Instead there has to be a nationwide curriculum on faith, ethics and sexual education in all schools. It should promote the great British values of liberalism and tolerance. Human sexuality and diversity should be paramount.
No school should be allowed to teach science based on their particular brand of religious understanding. Theological medievalism has no place in the modern classroom.
In this, we should demand a complete secularisation of our school system. Places of education should be free from the ties to belief systems and God, in no matter what form portrayed, should be limited to an academic subject rather than a lifestyle choice.