It was inevitable that given the opportunity to have access to young people and to appropriate state funding to proselytise, religions of all stripes would take advantage of the system. The breakdown according to the BHA is as follows:
Church of England (8) Greek Orthodox (1): Christian (12): Including one creationist. Sikh (5): Jewish (3): Muslim (3): Multi-faith/spiritual (1):This constitutes a full third of the schools approved in this round and can only serve to increase divisiveness in a generation that will need more than ever to be free of religious and racial intolerance. As a trend I find it extremely worrying especially as there seems to be no clarity on the extent to which such schools can discriminate on religious grounds in respect of admissions or recruitment.
It is extremely unlikely that these schools will be as religiously benign as existing faith schools that have been under the auspices of the state and OFSTED can appear to be. The groups applying for Free School status are noticeably more evangelical in nature and are unlikely to confine their religious content to the appropriate places in the syllabus. This is especially true in the case of the proposed Exemplar Academy, a rehash of a bid originally made by the Everyday Champions Church that was, quite correctly, rejected by the DoE. So, why Michael Gove should think that a change of name and the removal of the explicit link with the chuch should have actually changed this group’s creationist agenda is beyond my comprehension.
I suspect that a certain blind respect for faith is a work here and the government is not seeing the potential for damaging worldviews to be inflicted on the pupils at these schools. It should be sufficient that the parents and faith communities of our country’s children are able to bring them up in whatever tradition they feel is appropriate, without the state reinforcing those beliefs via an education system that should be secular and inclusive.
Children have a right to be exposed to ideas that contradict and conflict with those they hear at home and school is exactly the environment where that should happen. Faith schools cannot be relied upon to deliver impartial information, particularly in respect of evolution and, perhaps more seriously, gender equality issues and even with OFSTED oversight we will never be sure what bigotry they are being fed.