Richard Dawkins, the UK’s most prominent atheist, will today call on Ofsted to force faith schools to bring religious education into the national curriculum. Professor Dawkins said that the move would be the first step in ending what he calls the “wicked” practice of inculcating children with religious belief, as he steps up his campaign against religious education with a film that calls for the abolition of faith schools.
But in an interview with The Times, he made a striking admission — far from condemning parents who fake belief in order to get their children into a good school, he even could imagine doing so himself.
In Faith School Menace?, the evolutionary biologist argues that faith schools are socially divisive and educationally damaging. Citing the Troubles in Northern Ireland, where almost all schools are sectarian, he says: “If it wasn’t for religion, and especially religious education going on down the generations, you wouldn’t have a label by which to know who to oppress.”
He told The Times that his visit to Madani High School, an Islamic school in Leicester, revealed the educational dangers of faith schooling. “When I talked to a handful of girls and to their science teacher I was really shocked to discover that every single one of them rejected evolution because when in doubt they would always put the Koran ahead of science.”
Professor Dawkins said that the end of faith-based education would mean “religion would be taught in a comparative way according to a national curriculum, not indoctrination”.
The solution, he said, was straightforward: “Faith schools should not be allowed to opt to out of religious education. Yet they are given this free pass to do religious education in their own way, which is not inspected by Ofsted.” He added: “Many people want to send their children to faith schools because they get good exam results but they’re not foolish enough to believe that it’s because of faith that they get good exam results.” Anecdotes of parents suddenly discovering God shortly before school admissions season are certainly common, and Professor Dawkins is sympathetic.
“I don’t want to cast any blame on them. It’s hypocrisy that is imposed on them by a ridiculous and unjust system. It’s something that taxpayers shouldn’t be tolerating.” In fact, if he were in the same situation, he might be tempted to do the same thing.
“Since I have absolutely no belief at all, I wouldn’t be betraying anything,” he said.
Faith School Menace? will be broadcast as part of Richard Dawkins’s Age of Reason season tonight on More4 at 9pm