Image by DUP Photos via Flickr
It has taken me a full day to temper the invective I was planning to use in response to Peter Robinson’s contribution to the education debate. To those of you who wanted me to welcome the DUP leader’s new-found fondness for secular education – you’re about to be disappointed.
This man has been involved in one of the most divisive forces in Northern Ireland politics. The DUP has systematically propped-up the malevolent cultural apartheid that corrupts every corner of our civil society. But now he wants a single state education system. This man runs a political party and front bench team that wants creationist garbage taught in our schools and “intelligent design theory” featured in our museums. His party’s flat-earth perspectives and reactionary dogma is the utter antithesis of all that is right-minded and free-thinking. He fronts a rag-bag collection of bigots and political fossils that have helped put Northern Ireland on the international laughing stock map of small-minded mini nations.
His motivation for having a single state-funded education system, with funding removed for state schools, runs counter to logic and decency. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no advocate of Irish medium schools – I don’t believe that state funding should have been extended to such schools. They are patently absurd. However many schools that he describes as church schools attain some of the highest standards of academic excellence not just in Northern Ireland – but also in the United Kingdom. To remove state funding from some of our finest schools would be a public scandal.
Few, if any, of our finest church schools are “faith schools” in a pejorative sense. None is permitted to discriminate on the grounds of religious faith when employing staff. All adhere to state recommended curricula. Most teach children good standards of citizenship and mutual respect.
As an Atheist I choose to send one of my my children to a Quaker school – a school that makes clear that it accepts children of parents of faith and those (like me and my wife) who have no faith. It also happens to be a school that attains incredibly high academic standards. It certainly does not force religious doctrine or liturgy on its pupils. In all respects it adheres to the academic guidelines defined by the Accord Coalition.
Indeed, while Northern Ireland’s decency and civil society have been undermined by politicians, clergy and the two-tribe mentality of the state, our teachers have been beacons of tolerance. Our much maligned education system has managed to produce wonderful, well rounded and decent children against all the odds. And our so-called “integrated system” has been at the vanguard, often, of the two-tribe mentality when some of our best schools have focused, instead, on producing some of the best academic standards in Western Europe. State-funded grammar schools help produce the highest scores in GCSE and A Level results in the United Kingdom.
For readers that aren’t familiar with the aims of the coalition, here they are. And, for the benefit of Peter Robinson, I suggest that he encourages all state-funded schools to embrace these aims. Then we will, indeed, have one system of education.
Declaration of Aims of the Accord Coalition:
In a pluralist, multi-cultural society, the state should promote tolerance and recognition of different values and beliefs. Given the dangers of segregation and the importance of community cohesion we need schools that welcome all and are committed to non-discrimination. Schools should promote a culture of questioning, of knowledge, of respect and of exploration of values, where students develop their own identities and sense of place in the world. We believe all state-funded schools should:
1. Operate admissions policies that take no account of pupils’ – or their parents’ – religion or beliefs.
2. Operate recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief.
3. Follow an objective, fair and balanced syllabus for education about religious and non-religious beliefs – whether determined by their local authority or by any future national syllabus or curriculum for RE.
4. Be made accountable under a single inspection regime for RE, Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE) and Citizenship.
5. Provide their pupils with inclusive, inspiring and stimulating assemblies in place of compulsory acts of worship.
And we commit to work with each other locally and nationally to turn public support for inclusive education into a campaign for reform that the government cannot ignore.