Top author hits out at faith schools

BEST-SELLING author Joanne Harris has returned to the classroom for a TV documentary which argues faith schools are outdated and divisive.

In tonight's Inside Out programme (BBC1 7.30pm), Ms Harris visits four very different schools in Yorkshire – a Jewish primary in Leeds, a Catholic high in Wath upon Dearne, South Yorkshire, a private Muslim girls' school in Huddersfield, and a Sheffield comprehensive whose headteacher is defying the law by refusing to hold a Christian assembly.

The Chocolat author, who used to teach in Dewsbury, argues that schools should be a place of learning – not worship – and faith schools should not be funded with public money. She said: "I was a teacher for 15 years and have always believed that religion only has a place in school if it's being taught as a subject.

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"To divide pupils on the basis of their parents' religion can only be harmful to society."

At St Pius X Catholic High School in the Dearne Valley Ms Harris questions how the school is able to tackle issues such as abortion within the curriculum.

Headteacher Anne Winfield said: "Obviously we teach the students the church's teachings, that abortion is wrong in all circumstances. But nobody ever says you have got to believe this."

At Firth Park comprehensive in Sheffield, meanwhile, the author sees how the school has replaced the compulsory religious assembly with a secular one.

Headteacher Mo Laycock said: "We offer opportunities to children to have privacy to pray, to talk, to share their views and beliefs. But we won't be offering a daily act of corporate worship."