By Jamila Kossar
How effective has the education system been in the past ten years and where do we envisage it being in the next 10 years? This is a central and essential discussion, more so in recent times. Under this comes a further debate, and one of the most prominent questions at the forefront of education today: the place of faith schools in the United Kingdom. Are such schools justified? What role do they play, if any?
Faith schools have been in existence for centuries in Britain and I believe, regardless of their disadvantages, they have a positive impact on individuals and society as a whole.
As one who has, over the past decade, been through the education system and become a practitioner herself, as well as becoming a school governor in a primary and secondary school, I feel that the education system in this country has dramatically changed for the worse. If this was not the case, an increasing number of parents would not be opting to home school their children or send them to independent schools, whether faith schools or otherwise, as opposed to state-run institutions. Certainly policies and provisions are put in place to ensure the importance of education is reflected in the system. Yet, in addition to this, institutions in themselves should play a role to ensure that the education system in this country is effective. This joint action would not only assist in eradicating bullying, racism and hatred within schools, but also outside schools. It would contribute to emphasising community cohesion in this country and ensure it is filtered out into mainstream society. Educational institutions could and should play a pivotal role in realising this.
The central argument levied against faith schools is that the pupils attending are separated from mainstream society and this form of exclusivity undermines community cohesion. Thus instead of assimilating or integrating in society as a whole, pupils become more dysfunctional and unable to adjust to social and life expectations. This same argument could also be the case for parents who are opting for home schooling their children instead of allowing them the opportunity to meet new friends or learn things that are taught by the hidden curriculum of schools.
However, recent studies carried out by York University have shown that faith schools are achieving community cohesion far better than state schools. The turn in the millennium has also shown an increase in not only faith schools but parents who are opting to home school their children or send them to academies. These latter institutions are usually failing schools that are sponsored and re vamped into academies in which parents have a greater input into what should be taught.
Having attended a faith school myself and recently taught in one, I have had the privilege of seeing the fruits of their existence from two sides of the spectrum. Being a student at a faith school did not only equip me with the morals to survive in today’s society, but encouraged me to be a successful Muslim woman in any social realm, providing me with the necessary skills and opportunities to excel in life. This has led to my activism in various fields in the wider community. It is true a few faith schools may marginalise their pupils and not equip them adequately for the wider world, but the shortcomings of a few should not be a measure and impact upon the whole. The argument for the existence of faith schools is further justifiable by the academic results of such schools, which often significantly excel that of state schools, alongside their subsequent role and contribution to society.
The next few decades must reflect a considerable change in both the approach to faith schools and the system of education itself. The incidence of bullying, racism and conflict has reached a height that requires immediate address and is arguably a mark of the education system’s failure to adequately tackle these issues. The contribution of faith schools to community cohesion must be appreciated, and the need to strengthen this within mainstream state schools must be addressed and realised. Over the coming decade, with campaigning and raising awareness, we can hope to impact a change in policy in bodies of influence such that this can be achieved.
Jamila Kossar studied Religion and Theology at the University of Manchester, where she headed a major student society on campus whilst working with numerous national student umbrella bodies. She completed her PGCE from Edge Hill University and taught in a secondary school for two years. Jamila is an LEA school governor at a primary school and Secretary on the PTFA at an Islamic secondary school. Her own schooling took place at both mainstream institutions and faith schools. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Islamic Education at Markfield Institute of Higher Education, Leicester.
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