Were Park View Academy a faith school, would its Islamic practices have earned such a heavy handed inspection? This is the question advanced by many self-flagellating liberals and die-hard secularists in the wake of the Trojan Horse scandal. They seek to point the finger of hypocrisy at those who believe the practice of the Birmingham schools involved in the Trojan Horse scandal are wrong, whilst continuing to support Catholic and Church of England faith schools around Britain.
Such an argument ignores the enormous gulf between woolly modern Anglicanism and post Vatican II Catholicism, compared with radical Islam. Having the local vicar take the Friday assembly, or performing a sign of the cross at the beginning and end of each lesson, is a world away from inviting an al-Qaeda sympathiser to give an assembly; leading anti-Christian school chants; requiring girls to sit at the back of the classroom; and appointing a spokesman with links to alleged terrorist groups.
This is what the Ofsted report meant when it concluded such schools were not preparing pupils for life in modern Britain.
Much to the chagrin of secularists, faith schools are an established fact of British life. One third of state funded schools in Britain have a religious character, including 4,664 Church of England schools, 2,012 Catholic schools, 42 Jewish schools, and 12 Muslim schools. Such schools are exempt from 2010 Equalities Act, and can admit pupils and appoint staff according to their faith. The Education Secretary himself is soon to send his daughter to a Church of England school which selects on the basis of faith.
If Christians and Jews have been allowed to establish such schools, so should Muslims. However, such schools should never be allowed to preach a radical version of their faith which is antagonistic not only towards other British citizens, but Britain itself.
Many claim to disagree fundamentally with the principle of faith schools. I remember well a conversation with an impeccably modern liberal who declared it an embarrassment that we still have faith schools in England, whilst countries such as America and France embrace enlightened secularism. I then enquired where he had sent his children to school, and he replied with the name of a well-known Church of England public school. It had not occurred to him that his principled opposition to secularism failed to marry with his personal choice of a faith school for his child.
Despite the onwards march of liberal secularism, faith schools continue to appeal to parents. Lessons on how to lead a ‘good life’ are fundamental to a child’s education, so effective schools have always recognised character formation as central to their mission. Assemblies, prize giving, pupil responsibilities and extra-curricular activities all constitute this vital part of schooling. Unfortunately, secularism does not have the same ability to imbue the furniture of school life with the wealth of culture and tradition that religion can.
This is why so many atheist or agnostic parents still prefer to send their little darlings to Church of England primary schools. Few children leave such schools aged 11 as God-fearing evangelists, but many have learnt to appreciate the beauty of a church, the collectivism of hymn singing, and the message of the Good Samaritan. What is more, modern Christianity has long been accustomed to religious plurality. Whilst Christian faith schools may be religiously exclusive, they are comfortable being part of a nation and community which is not.
The same may not be said of the six Trojan Horse schools. Had they been faith schools, their practices would still have been worthy of scandal. British Muslims have a right to establish faith schools, but they must not be defined by a version of their faith that is anti-Christian, sexist and willing to entertain terrorism.