Sunday, October 10, 2010

Schools can indoctrinate

Government won’t outlaw extremists taking over schools
There will be no new legislation to stop extremist religious views being taught in the Government’s new free schools and academies, said Lord Hill of Oareford, Parliamentary under-Secretary of State for Schools, in a letter to the National Secular Society.

The NSS had asked Lord Hill what steps were being taken to prevent extremist ideologies being introduced through the new free schools and academies system. Lord Hill replied:

“On the issue of proselytising, which you also raise, we do not think it appropriate to legislate in this area. Parents will choose a school based on its ethos. That ethos may be Christian, Muslim or Jewish or it may have no faith ethos at all. Parents should be free to choose schools on the basis of their ethos. I would like to believe that parents consider these issues carefully and send their children to a school fully aware of its faith or other ethos.”

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “We are alarmed at the prospect of extremist religious groups taking control of these schools and using them to brainwash children. What is to stop a Muslim group taking over a school and turning it into a madrassa at public expense, if that is what it is claimed the parents want? What is to stop a Scientology front group taking over a school and then introducing its teachings with taxpayers’ money? The fact that some parents want to indoctrinate their children in a particular religion does not mean that they should be able to access public money to do so.”

His fears were echoed by Geoffrey Davies who is on the board of the United Learning Trust (ULT), which sponsors 17 academies. He called for new rules that would stop an academy trust passing to groups alien to a school’s original ethos. Speaking at a Westminster Forum earlier this month, Mr Davies said it was currently too easy for an academy trust to fall into the wrong hands and that the Government has very little power over it.

“There has got to be some provision that is built into the documentation for the transition from one group of people running (an academy trust) to another,” he said. “There is nothing at the moment that controls who those people are. Those of us who played student politics back in the 1960s know how easy it is to take control of organisations and it would be very easy for an academy trust to become controlled by a group of people who are completely alien to the original concept.

“People with extremist religious or political views could work their way into control over a period of time and at the moment there is nothing that the department can do to affect that, except to give a seven-year notice to terminate the agreement.”

His comments were underlined when it was revealed that several Muslim girls’ schools in England are forcing pupils as young as 11 to wear face veils as part of the school uniform. The three schools causing concern were Madani Girls’ School in Tower Hamlets, East London, Jamea Al Kauthar, in Lancaster and Jameah Girls’ Academy in Leicester. All three are independent, fee-paying, single-sex schools catering for girls aged 11 to 18. The schools insist that when girls are travelling to and from school they wear the niqab, a face veil leaving the eyes exposed, or the head-to-toe burka, which covers the eyes with a mesh screen.

Ed Husain, co-director of Quilliam, the counter-extremist think-tank, said: “It is absurd that schools are enforcing this outdated ritual – one that which sends out a damaging message that Muslims do not want to fully partake in British society. The enforcing of the niqab on young girls is not a mainstream Islamic practice – either in Britain or in most Muslim-majority countries. It is a desert practice which belongs to another century and another world.”

Terry Sanderson added: “Although these schools are privately run at present, there is nothing to stop them applying for academy or free school status in the future. We would then have this dangerous separatism being paid for by the taxpayer and — according to Lord Hill — if parents want their daughters to be raised as people who reject involvement in mainstream society, then that will be OK.”

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