I listened to the car crash that is Michael Gove’s education policy unravel last night.
As politicians slugged it out in Westminster, both in the traditional cross party fight and in increasingly bitter internecine war, it seemed that few people were giving much thought to the hundreds (correction – thousands) of students involved. The so-called Trojan horse affair blew up just as many of them were preparing for GCSEs and A levels – exams that will determine their futures. The furore has raged throughout the exam period; teachers (many not Muslim) and students have heard increasingly outrageous claims about their schools, with lurid speculation for once not restricted to the tabloid press.
From my limited perspective (Guardian and BBC informed, white, non-Muslim) the clear losers in this battle are the students and their teachers. Schools that were awarded outstanding status in their last Ofsted inspections have now been placed in special measures. These are schools that have seen students leaving with outstanding academic achievements; schools that one emotional vice principal described yesterday as ‘a beacon of hope in a deprived, non white, Muslim community’.
Whatever the truth about a radicalisation agenda (and I suspect that we will never know the whole truth) there can surely be no better way to radicalise an entire community than to treat them like this. Mr Gove and his colleagues (and I do not exempt Labour from this) have publically made clear that non white, non Christian, British citizens who wish to bring up their children in the Islamic faith will not be supported by the state.
There is a clear double standard here, as it seems to be permissible for Roman Catholic, Jewish, and evangelical Christian children to have faith driven education within state funded schools.
I know very little about radical Islam, but I have had experience of missionary evangelical Christians at various times in my life. These have been people who have argued with me that the way in which I practised Christianity (at the Anglo-Catholic end of the spectrum) was a road to damnation. People who vitriolically opposed women priests, who still oppose women bishops, who are rabid in their opposition to gay marriage. It was the corrosive effect of the complete intolerance of evangelical Christians that finally led me to abandon the church several years ago. However, evangelism and the certain truths offered by fundamentalists in all religions appeal to many people, especially in times of hardship.
The evangelical wing of the CofE is growing. Active members from this group have been keen to exploit the options that Gove’s free schools, academies, faith schools etc offer. Mr Gove has previously supported the teaching of creationism, surely a belief that defies years of scientific evidence. Evangelical Christian schools hold different views about sexuality than those prevalent in our community today. Catholic schools may deny their students access to contraceptive education, including dogma-free information about abortion.
No schools with a strong faith basis are likely to promote a curriculum that teaches complete gender and sexual equality – a scandal that I do not see the Department of Education addressing.
I would like to say to Mr Gove, please address the plank in your own eye before attacking the note in the eye of the other. Consider how the Birmingham schools have arrived at this point. I assume that some parents and staff might argue that the strong exam results have stemmed from a strong Muslim upbringing and education. Personally I would argue that there is much more to a good rounded education than exam results, and I would not have wished my children to have had a doctrinally based education. However Mr Gove places huge store by exam results – perhaps he should ask himself what the costs of these are. Is a similar thing happening in strongly Christian schools?
I feel saddened that an entire community of our own citizens has been scapegoated for the alleged actions of a tiny minority. I feel saddened that the state education system of our country – a system that has successfully educated me and my children – is being destroyed by a man who has his own passionately held beliefs. Like all zealots he is certain that his beliefs are the only real truth, and that they must be imposed on everyone.

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