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Proletarian issue 63 (December 2014)
End private, sectarian and religious schools. Quality education for all
The following resolution was passed by the recent CPGB-ML party congress.
This congress notes that in the educational field, as in the provision of public health, the journey towards free, universal, comprehensive and high-quality provision is in the immediate interest of all working people, and in the long-term interest of humanity as a whole.

Congress notes, however, that serial bourgeois British governments, Labour and ConDem alike, are pushing an agenda of privatisation, deregulation, academisation, and the creation of new ‘free’ schools. This ‘free’ denotes freedom from national standards, curriculums, admission criteria, agreed payment frameworks, and local authority control.[1] They, like the Labour ‘flagship’ academies before them, are state funded, but managed by private businesses, individuals, groups and religious orders.[2]

This congress believes that it is in this context that we have witnessed a resurgence of separatist and religious schools of all kinds. Indeed, one-third of ‘free’ schools created under the ConDem flagship educational policy have been avowedly religious.[3] Britain has 6,751 state-funded religious schools’ out of a total of 24,372 (including nursery schools, state-funded primary schools, state-funded secondary schools, special schools, pupil referral units and independent schools).[4]

This congress notes that while muslim schools have come under greatest media scrutiny and attack, it is christian schools of all denominations, with catholic schools at the forefront, that are the largest players in the sectarian delivery of education. Following the advice of the Jesuit priest Gracian – “Give me a child of seven and I’ll give you the man” – they aim to indoctrinate in a manner that will dominate their pupils for life, ensuring the ongoing power of their anachronistic institutions.

Congress further notes the creation and maintenance of jewish, hindu, sikh, budhist and other schools representing the diversity of ‘faith’ to be found in Britain. London’s Jewish Free School (JFS) came into controversy over its discriminatory admission policy towards a non-orthodox local child, but in truth, the very act of instituting a religious school is an act both of separatism and of discrimination and exclusion towards all outside the sect concerned.[5,6]

This congress affirms its belief that it is the duty of communists to argue against religion, and religious practices, as being a source of social control and diversion from the workers’ struggle to win emancipation. We re-affirm Marx’s assessment that

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.

It is, therefore, the task of history, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world.”[7]

Congress notes that such key ideas and concepts as Darwinian and natural selection, and the materialist philosophy of science, are discarded by faith schools in favour of lesson plans that are devoted to the concept of divine intervention and creationism. This is against the interest of the working class.

This congress believes the harm in these practices are not simply that religion is unscientific. Most crucially of all, this congress believes that to bring up children in an environment isolated from all the other groups – religious and atheist – that they will encounter and live with in wider society, is positively harmful, and fosters division and distrust among young students and workers – as exemplified by the sectarian divisions in the occupied north of Ireland, and leading to such ugly scenes as those witnessed at Holy Cross Primary School in 2001.[8]

This congress is aware that parents who push for the development of faith, academy and private schools, and for their children to attend them, believe that they simply have their children’s best interests at heart, and are trying to make the best out of a situation that they did not have a hand in planning.

However, congress is firmly of the opinion that the tiered, segregated and divided school system that has been engineered in Britain represents the greatest threat to the future of our children and the working class. The struggle to secure a ‘good’ school place sets pupils, parents and workers up against each other; and more importantly diverts them from the bigger picture – of why is this awful schooling provision in place? How are British working-class children being confined to a life of educational failure, and being encouraged to perceive the systemic failings of capitalism as their own individual inadequacies? Our children are quite literally being held to ransom.

Congress believes that it is the shambles and variable quality provision in the public sector that provides a lucrative market for the already-existing private and public-school (independent) sector, which accounts for six percent of school provision – and whose pupils currently make up 20 percent of all university placements and 30 percent of entrants to the top Russell group of universities. It is precisely these statistics that drive their smug and complacent success. It is the will to avoid the battle of the state schooling system as it exists that drives middle and upper-class parents to put their children through private school – often at crippling expense to themselves.

This congress notes that the odds of a child at a state secondary school who is eligible for free school meals in Year 11 – the final year before they begin their sixth-form studies for university admission – going to Oxbridge by the age of 19 is almost 2,000:1 against. By contrast, the odds of a privately-educated child being admitted to Oxbridge are 20:1.[9] “There is a strong correlation between someone’s social class and their likelihood of going to university and to the most selective universities in particular.”[10]

Congress further notes that almost two-thirds of A-level students from the independent sector went on to Britain’s leading institutions in 2010/11, compared with less than a quarter of those from the state system. When looking at comprehensives and FE colleges alone, just 20 percent of pupils gained places in 2010/11, down from 22 percent in 2009/10 and 23 percent in 2008/9.[11]

This congress believes that the role of education is to fit us for our future position in society, and we demand an end to third-rate education aimed to fit us for wage slavery or the scrap heap of unemployment. We need an education that will fit working-class youth to become the ruling class.

This congress therefore reiterates the demand outlined in our Red Youth statement of aims, We Want Freedom!, for universal, free, high-quality education and recreational facilities for all. In particular, we demand:

1. All private, religious and ethnically-divided schools must be abolished.

2. Adequate grants should be provided to cover living and studying expenses of working-class students and their families, from crèche and kindergarten through nursery, to school, undergraduate and higher-degree level.

3. Syllabuses and teaching methods should reflect the needs and interests of working-class people, including the teaching of materialist philosophy of science, Darwinian natural selection, and working-class history and politics.

4. In the short term, if our capitalist state and the schooling system they provide cannot meet these aims, then we must build a movement that can.

5. All state funding of religious schools and institutions must cease.

6. Freedom of religion, and equality of religion, based upon the private funding of the followers of that religion, and the total separation of state and religion.


NOTES

1. teachers.org.uk/freeschools
2. theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/jan/24/academy-school-system-heading-rocks
3. theguardian.com/education/2012/jul/13/third-new-free-schools-religious
4. mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/force-feeding-faith-school-should-banned-3665556
5. theguardian.com/education/2009/dec/16/jewish-free-school-discrmination-ruling
6. catholic.com/blog/trent-horn/should-catholic-schools-be-allowed-to-discriminate
7. Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1844
8. theguardian.com/world/2001/sep/04/qanda.schools
9. thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/news/russell-group-under-fire-over-class-bias/
10. gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/206994/FINAL_Higher_Education_-_The_Fair_ Access_Challenge.pdf
11. telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10229248/Private-school-pupils-monopolising-top-university-places.html
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