In the town I grew up near, what school you went to depended on a number of things.
My parents weren’t rich, so that was one option closed off. Not that they’d have sent me to a would-be posh school anyway.
We weren’t Catholics, so that was another avenue closed.
I wasn’t a girl, so there’s another.
But I was quite bright, so I ended up at the old-fashioned, self-satisfied boys’ grammar school.
Luckily for me, all that old divisiveness was on the way out. So I was able to switch in the sixth form to the new comprehensive that had previously been a secondary modern.
Not all comprehensives were, or are, as good. The change between systems was not always well managed – partly because the heads of the new schools were often old grammar heads who weren’t committed to the new idea. Or who simply weren’t up to the new job.
But the idea itself was right.
The more you mix with people of different backgrounds, different views and different abilities, the more tolerant and understanding you’re likely to be. And the more variety of opportunity you, and they, will have.
Which is why faith schools are such a bad idea.
Instead of opening doors, which is what education should do, they close them.
As has been so forcefully remarked on in the case of Birmingham’s Muslim schools, they breed intolerance. Lack of understanding. Very bad science. Potential sectarian (and perhaps racist) violence.
With the enthusiastic urging of first Tony Blair and latterly Michael Gove, faith schools have sprung up like mushrooms in the night.
There are now more than 7,000 of them in the UK. Of those 6,751 are funded by the state, but free from what Gove likes to call “unsympathetic meddling”.
Free, in other words, to perpetrate and perpetuate all those bad things I just listed.
Free also to brainwash innocent young minds with mad, bad, dangerous twaddle like Creationism.
Of course, most faith schools aren’t that extreme. But there are believed to be more than 60 schools teaching Creationism as if it was fact, not magic.
That’s five times as many as there are Muslim schools.
According to the most recent available figures (2012), there are 42 Jewish schools, 12 Muslim, three Sikh, one Hindu – which leaves about 6,942 Christian ones.
They shouldn’t get state support. It’s debatable whether they should get state permission to exist.
Meanwhile, deep in Berkshire, there is a shadowy school, open only to a select few, which brainwashes pupils in a cult of world domination.
Though not a faith school, like them it teaches its pupils that they are superior to other people.
Though it doesn’t count as state-funded, its official status as a charity means it benefits from massive tax breaks. Even though most of its pupils’ parents are very rich already.
As British as roast beef, it is directly responsible for many of our most intractable-seeming problems.
Its old boys (they are all boys) have infiltrated every area of business, science, religion, the media, the military and government. One of them is the prime minister.
It is called Eton.