30 August 2006





 In a letter to the Times August 29, 2006, Lord Baker gave bad advice to UK Secularists regarding faith schools when he wrote, on behalf of himself and other Lords and Baronesses :

" We accept that we cannot change the arrangements for existing faith schools, but any new ones must be inclusive. "

UK Secularists should follow the superior advice contained in a statement entitled State, Religion and Schools made in 1964 by John Grigg,  otherwise known as Lord Altrincham. The following is a substantial excerpt from his Statement.


Twentieth anniversaries are now the fashion. We have lately been reminded that it is 20 years since D-Day. The same interval has elapsed since the Butler Education Act, which set the pattern for Education in post-war Britain.

Discussing the religious settlement arrived at by Mr. Butler, the then Lord Rochester, a non­conformist peer, said in the House of Lords:

"If the Roman Catholic Church claims the right to teach .children a distinctive, and to us an unwelcome sectarianism, and to do so insists on contracting out from the national scheme, we think that they should in all fairness foot the bill." .

This remark is as challenging today as it was 20 years ago.


The English State, which is still linked with a Reformed Church, might be expected to give no support at all to schools which are used as cells for the propagation of Roman Catholicism. for liberty's sake it would be bound to allow them to exist, subject to the enforcement of minimum standards of education and hygiene. But that it should subsidise them at all, let alone bear the lion's share of the cost, while leaving them under effective clerical control, would seem

the merest fantasy - a day-dream (or night.. mare) utterly remote from the world of reality. Yet that is precisely what has happened.

Any sensible non-Catholic must feel, as I do, immense respect, even affection, for the old firm. It is not only the most powerful form of organised Christianity; it is also, in many ways, the best. What seems to many of us its faults must never blind us to its great and noble virtues.        .

Any society, however, which believes in freedom of the mind, must be careful not to assist the monopolistic tendencies of a Church which claims infallibility.

Secularised State education need not. destroy. it may actually stimulate. the life of the Church. as the French experience has proved. But an excess of clerical education is death to intellectual liberty.

About two-thirds of our Catholic school­children attend Church schools. almost all of which are of the "aided" variety. The governing body of an "aided" Catholic school consists as to two-thirds of people who are not nominated by the local authority and who see to it that the teaching staff is overwhelmingly Catholic. About 95%. of all the teachers are members of the Church.

Yet these clerical closed shops are largely financed out of public funds; the local authority pays the teachers and keeps up the interior of the school buildings, while 75% grants may be obtained to cover internal repairs and improve­ments, and towards the cost of new schools.


The total number of children in England and Wales attending Roman Catholic primary and secondary schools within the maintained system (Le.. excluding direct grant and independent schools) is about 600,000. The total of Roman Catholics in Britain is about four million.

In France - which, in spite of a large anti­clerical element, could be described as a Roman Catholic country - about 80% of all school­children attend secular State schools. In France, therefore, it is quite normal for Roman Catholic parents to submit their children to a secular education. Non-Catholic Britain has a more clericalised educational system than Catholic France.


The State has drifted into this position for four reasons:

First. because it is committed to the ideal of Christian rather than secular education.

Second, because it has made a fetish of parental discretion in the matter of schooling.

Third, because politicians find it easier to give way to a determined Church lobby than to resist it.

Fourth, because they can justify their complaisance on specious grounds of economy and liberty.

It is true, of course, that the Catholic children who are now taught in "aided" Church schools would have to be educated, if these schools did not exist, entirely at the public expense. It is also true that Catholic parents are taxpayers and (many of them) ratepayers, so that they are conŽtributing towards the public share of the schools' finance.

But it is certainly NOT true that the balance of advantage is with the State. On the contrary, the State, which represents a population which is predominantly non-Catholic, is effectively subsidising a form of education which includes indeed, is based upon - Roman Catholic indoctrination.

Moreover, since Catholic families tend, for obvious reasons, to be larger than non-Catholic families, the average Catholic parent makes acontribution to the birth-rate which is out of all proportion to what he contributes to the Revenue. He makes a demand upon the Social Services which can only be met as a result of involuntary contributions by the non-Catholic majority; and the State allows most Catholic parents to educate their children in strictly Catholic establishments in return for bearing what is proportionately only a small share of the financial burden.


 What of the libertarian argument? In an open society we are told parents must be free to educate their children as they think fit; and if they cannot afford to do so, the State must provide the funds.The first part of this argument is sound (though the results are often deplorable ( not least in the sphere of what are called the independent schools).

The second part is open to the most fundamental objections. Granted that the State is not itself philosophically neutral, it cannot reasonably be expected to hand out subsidies to every kind of school whose philosophy differs from its own. Yet if it cannot subsidise all, why should it subsidise any?

Besides, is it right that schools should be used to fasten upon children the ethical and metaphysical beliefs of their parents?

In what aspires to be an open society, should parents have the undisputed last word?

If the choice were between parents and State, most of us would prefer parental dictation. The value of home influence and the dangers of State control are self-evident.

But is it necessary to give artificial support to the one in order to escape the other?

Should we not try to have schools which are themselves miniature open societies (in the intellectual sense), and should it not be the function of our State to provide such schools only, while leaving parents free to have their children indoctrinated at their own expense - or at the expense of others who might share their particular outlook?


Of course, any good school will impose high standards of discipline and will employ as teachers only the sort of people who can command the respect of children. The miniature open society must never be a miniature jungle. Children need the example of grown-ups who have decent values, and wh0 know their own minds. But if children mix at school only with other children whose religious background is the same as their own, and if the teachers are all of the same religious persuasion, their minds are, so to say, pre-empted. They are deprived of the challenge and response which is a most valuable part of education.


My contention is that our State ought to stand for an open, non-sectarian (and, of course, non-political) education: that its philosophy ought to be a philosophy of free choice for each individual - not just for parents.It ought to have no special relationship with any religion or Church, and it ought in future to give no financial support to any schools other than its own.Independent schools of every sort and kind might continue to flourish under its benevolent and permissive eye, but they would be no charge at all on public funds.In concentrating upon the Catholic schools I am not moved by any sectarian bias against Roman Catholicism. The argument applies equally to Anglican, Non-conformist and other denominational schools, except that the latter are of diminishing importance and are mostly not of the "aided" type."


Secularists throughout the world, should look to Australia to look to lessons in the folly of State Aid to Church Schools. In the 1870s and 1880s, the Australian Colonies recognised the value of state support for only public (State) schools because of the cohesive quality of public schools and the non-cohesive nature of 'faith" ( church)  schools.


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Last modified:Wednesday, 30 August 2006