Iain Banks was quoted in Scotland on Sunday as saying that government should scrap state funding for faith schools claiming that they foster sectarianism.
It’s sad to see the faith schools issue getting tangled up in the sectarianism question like this. Faith schools have a long and honourable tradition. Experience south of the border suggests that, even in a relatively secular society, there is a strong parental preference for faith schools. No doubt there are many reasons for that. But the perception that they have a clear ethos and can help young people to acquire strong values is part of it – though those virtues are not confined to faith schools. In the Scottish Episcopal Church, we have historic links with a number of schools – some Primary Schools and of course Glenalmond College. I wish we had more.
The historic sectarianism which is still a factor in Scottish life does of course make it more difficult. Research into sectarianism suggests that it is a systemic phenomenon. It may be at its most visible and nasty on the terraces of an Old Firm match. But it feeds on almost every strand of a society – even on things which we would not in themselves see as sectarian. The research says that it is about identity .. that it always involves religion. And of course it tends to see others in negative or hostile terms.
That kind of systemic sectarianism is present in home, school, church and playground. And our society needs to think about how it can be eradicated.
At the moment, we’re discussing faith schools and denominational education. Scotland is becoming more diverse – this question will soon arise on an inter-faith basis and we need an open debate about the patterns of education which will best serve a new kind of society.