Wednesday 18 July 2012

Faith Schools

It's often a little unwise for me to blog when I've had something to drink, but bugger it. It's 5 o'clock somewhere, and I've had a margarita. Today, faith schools have pissed me off on two fronts. I find them an utterly illiberal concept, and I long for the secularisation of the state school system, and both Paul and I actually attended faith state schools for our primary and secondary education (Catholic and Church of England respectively). I still remember being told by the priest attached to our school that I shouldn't support the Green Party because David Icke thought he was the son of God (now I don't support the Green Party because they're anti-science).

Anyway, I digress.

HPV Vaccination
Hot on the heels of the news that the Schools Minister doesn't think it's necessary for children to know the correct names for parts of their anatomy is the revelation that some faith schools are opting out of the HPV vaccine, and that the schools or PCTs are not informing local GPs or letting the parents/guardians know where they can access the vaccination instead. The original article in GP Magazine is available if you register, otherwise the Grauniad fairly accurately reflects the original article. The reasons given for this decision are that "pupils follow strict Christian principles, marry within their own community and do not practise sex outside marriage".

I'm reminded of the attitude of Cambridge college porters towards TV licence enforcing officers. The porters turned away the officers at the porters' lodge, because college regulations stipulated that students were not allowed televisions. Therefore no students had televisions and no TV licences were required. Yeah, right. Making up rules prohibiting something is no guarantee that the rules will be obeyed, whether it is not having a television or not having sex before marriage.

In any case, this assertion does not allow for the fact that a) abstaining from sexual intercourse does not appear to guarantee a young woman will not acquire HPV (non-penetrative sexual contact is a plausible infection route, as are fomites, vertical transmission and skin-to-skin contact), b) young women are usually held up to standards of virginity that are not expected of their prospective husbands (so a female virgin could still acquire HPV from her husband on her wedding night), and c) women who "follow strict Christian principles" can still be raped or coerced into sex.

An article published earlier this year investigated possible effects of offering the HPV vaccination on girls' sexual activity. They concluded:
  • Being offered the HPV vaccine was not linked with higher rates of sexual activity.
  • Receiving the HPV vaccination was not associated with increased sexual risk-taking.
  • HPV vaccination is unlikely to affect girls' sexual behaviour.
Well then. A move like this has no benefit to the school or to its female students. And by not informing the GPs in the area, the girls' doctors are prevented from offering a safety-net of vaccination. I tell my male students to check their testicles, and I tell my students to check their breasts and to have regular cervical smears when they're called for them. And yes, I tell them to have their HPV vaccines. It might save their lives.

Teaching Creationism
And so creationism raises its ugly head. We could have predicted this particular outcome of the disastrous free school programme. Yesterday I had a notification from the British Humanist Association regarding three creationist free schools that had been given approval to open, including Grindon Hall Christian School. According to the BHA, Grindon Hall have the policy that:
We will teach creation as a scientific theory and we will always affirm very clearly our position as Christians, i.e. that Christians believe that God's creation of the world is not just a theory but a fact with eternal consequences for our planet and for every person who has ever lived on it.
Eek. Classic "teach the controversy" stuff, part of the "wedge strategy", and just plain wrong. According to the Grauniad article linked above, the head of Grindon Hall has said this policy is out of date, and that they won't be doing that, but there is no real indication of what will be taught. The DfE hit Twitter to reiterate their position that no free school is allowed to teach creationism as scientific fact, but the statement on their website is not exactly clear:
We would expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum. We do not expect creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas to be taught as valid scientific theories in any state funded school.
Doesn't exactly lay down the law, does it? I'm tempted to respond that no one expects the Spanish Inquisition. Not an explicit ban on the teaching of creationism as science. And that is where, I fear, the schools will start to chip away at the teaching of evolution. This is the thin end of the wedge in UK schools; this is where it begins.

So there you have it, two ways in which faith schools are damaging their students physically and intellectually. I need another drink.


  1. You appear to be condemning over 6000 schools on the grounds of two stories, with very few details, about less than two dozen schools in total. (And that's without even considering the possibility the stories might not be accurate: )

    Who is being illiberal here?

    1. I note you don't have the courage of your convictions to append a name to this... I can assure you I have many more idealogical objections to faith schools, including indoctrination, selection by the back door and lack of decent sex education. Simply, state-funded faith schools have no place in a liberal, secular society.

  2. The point is that if you have a sound argument against faith schools you would have made it, rather than resorting to repeating bizarre scare stories.

    I chose anonymity because it is generally best not to provide a target for people who appear motivated by hatred. Love the idea that destroying faith schools is "liberal" though.

    1. No, the point is that in the second sentence of my post I specifically said the faith schools had pissed me off on two fronts, and then I went on to describe those two fronts. Don't attempt to tell me off on my own blog for not writing the post you think I wrote. The articles referenced are well supported by evidence, a concept which, I suspect, is one you do not have a lot of time for.

      Your second paragraph is skirting close to defamation. I would remind you that your IP address is absolutely not anonymous, and that further comments of that nature will result in you being reported to your broadband provider. And far from destruction.

      And would you please quote the place where I said anything about destroying faith schools?

    2. Ooh, careful honey, you don't want to start asking for "evidence" from anonymous commenters. Don't you know facts, evidence and rationality are the hallmarks of persecution?

      Of course, requesting that they identify themselves or you'll ban their comments will just further prove to them that you've got it in for them, rather than merely being the civil request to face your accuser than any rational human being might expect when engaged in discussion....

    3. MischievousBastard18 July 2012 at 21:26

      Anonymous, you mental?

      A "scare story" is baseless bunk, like how the MMR jab causes autism. Established fact is not a scare story, though it can be scary. For a school to deny its' students knowledge of how the world is understood to work, how their bodies are understood to work and how to prevent disease because of one man's far-right interpretation of a collection of texts written over two thousand years ago is reprehensibly negligent. That is not a scare story, that is verifiable fact.

      To argue against keeping the next generation of our species in such ignorance is not an act of hatred, it is an act of love. If you love a child, you arm that child with the knowledge s/he needs to remain safe and healthy. It is denying the child such things which marks you as full of hatred.

      To preach such hate whilst wearing the mask of anonymity marks you as craven. Educate yourself, find the sort of truth that you can have courage in.

    4. Have I ever told you how proud I am to have taught you MB? Points all very eloquently made, and I'm particularly taken with your middle paragraph.

      Education is an act of love. And it is our duty, whether as parents, teachers or others in the community, to get children to the stage that they can keep themselves healthy and happy without them. In fact, preparing offspring for life without their parents is pretty much what all animals who nurture their young do.

    5. MischievousBastard19 July 2012 at 17:01

      Aww :)

      Seriously, religion can be a beautiful thing. It marks Humanity's first attempts to explain our world, from which evolved philosophy and ultimately science. It gets ugly when it forces ignorance upon those so young that they lack the independence to choose between ignorance and knowledge for themselves.

      Doing so on the basis of one man's far-right interpretation of a bunch of texts written two thousand years ago, in my own view, is bordering upon child abuse.

      In other news: painting a fence is more fun with perry...

  3. One of my greatest achievements as a science teacher was having two BTEC Y11 students get the HPV vaccine their parents had refused on religious grounds. I gave them the facts, without bias, made the point that HPV Vaccine doesn't make you have sex, it just protects you from getting 70% of cancers in your cervix. This was in a BTEC Lesson within the Human Health module (vaccinations, menstrual cycle, etc).

    The girls went home, spoke to their parents and got the jab. Both are eldest in large families. Younger sister in Y9 is getting the jab right now as well :)

    The same girl now asked her younger sister today to ask me about going on the pill for her acne. Could I give her some advice about would she still be able to have babies later if she went on the pill now?

    These girls are so unaware of their own bodies because parents don't talk to them. Mum has 8 children under 16. The girls want more than that for themselves. Imagine if I worked in a school where I wouldn't be able to answer honestly.

    1. You may well have saved their lives. Well done. I really value the opportunities I have to help students understand their own bodies.

  4. I start my bio classes by reading five creation stories, then tell the students to never listen to any one who is dead certain how life started on this planet. I tell them that one can view the world spiritually and scientifically at the same time, but for the rest of the year we will focus on science, which in my classroom means we don't try to prove or disprove God, we just let him be.


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