Faith in Teaching?

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.


  1. I think it ‘s part of the human condition that .we like what we know and know what we like’, (right from childhood) and part of the maturing process is that we should be able to learn to see difference as diversity.

    It is obviously difficult to develop this learning if one is born into a certain culture, (I spent the first 17 years of my life in Lisburn, Northern Ireland) and are prevented from doing so by peer groups or family members.

    It can therefore require a strong will or powerful education , or guidance over a lifetime to fully learn to accept others as equals.

    Someone once said that to cure Ireland’s sectarian problems, it would be necessary to take children away from the bad influences for at least 25 years ….they may be right!

    The tentative green shoots of acceptance are now appearing….let’s hope no great jackboot tramples upon them.

    It may all yet prove to be a great lesson to the rest of the world and in more spheres than politics and religion.

  2. I have to say I have real reservations about state funding for faith schools. Partly it’s that I think school isn’t the place for teaching faith. Partly it’s that I see some faith schools which are segregationist in tone and work against notions of inclusive society. In that respect faith schools can contribute to sectarianism – if you grow up amongst only your own, it’s easier to demonise the ‘other’.
    Can the state really justify funding faith schools at all, and should it? And if it does, is there a line to be drawn anywhere in terms of what an individual school might wish to teach or what ethos it might wish to foster? It’s a tricky one, but I’m inclined to agree with Iain Banks on this issue.

    1. ‘Partly it’s that I think school isn’t the place for teaching faith.’

      With so, so many children now going through life for numerous reasons without any faith, is not a place in the school timetable justifiable?

  3. Thanks David, for this.

    I think sectarianism can only be fully eradicated when we come to a completely new understanding of what it means to be human – to see ourselves not as individuals or limited communities with the inherent socio-political one-upmanship entailed, but to recognise a common humanity, common similarity and value in each other regardless of who that “other” is – to not be threatened by that “otherness” but to learn from and be complimented by it. And i think that is where the education has to start – for adults and for children alike.

    However I fear that this is merely wishful thinking, a fantasy of what could be.

    For now I’ll settle for a world in which it becomes increasingly socially, politically and ethically unacceptable to define someone by their faith heritage, as it is becoming increasingly so with sexuality, gender and colour.

    We’re not there yet, on any of it – but if we keep praying, dreaming and living that dream, then maybe one day fantasy can be come reality.

Comments are closed.