Public meeting provides no answers
Last week saw a meeting to discuss a proposed new Sikh school in the borough of Hounslow. Isleworth Resident John Hunt was in attendance and commented as follows:
A proposed Sikh-ethos, multi-faith school, due to open somewhere in the London borough of Hounslow in September 2013 for boys and girls aged 4-19, was discussed at a public meeting at the St. Francis of Assisi Church on Friday evening.
Cllrs Barbara Reid and Sheila O'Reilly attended. Cllr Reid asked whether the organisers could tell the meeting which sites in the borough are being considered for the school: but they said they could not divulge this, even though the planned opening is only nine months away.
A recently retired Hounslow teacher asked whether the organisers knew why Section 28.1 of the Constitution of India stipulates that "No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of State funds": but they did not.
As Terry Green, Head of Secondary Education at Nishkam High School in Birmingham, had said that the school was allowed some discretion to depart from the National Curriculum, I asked what departures were foreseen: but he merely repeated that 40% of lesson time would be devoted to English and maths. As the proportion of Sikh pupils at the Birmingham school where he teaches is around 95-96%, it is hardly surprising that additional emphasis may need to be placed on English.
Since faith (belief in religious doctrines) is frequently contrasted with science (based on repeated experiments yielding reproducible evidence), I asked specifically how the faith ethos would impact science lessons: but Mr. Green was unable to comment. The Department for Education, concerned about faith schools teaching "creationism" instead of evolution, tightened the rules in November.
I also observed that UK social attitudes have improved in recent decades: though religions have frequently been slow to adopt modern trends. Only last month the Church of England voted against women bishops: and it is also tying itself in knots on marriage equality for lesbians and gay men. What would pupils be taught about Sikh values? Worryingly, Mr. Green was unable to say.
One of the presentations included a photograph of the Pope, who had given the Nishkam team some accolade. As he has been charged with crimes against humanity, I commented that he is hardly a role model for anyone. There was vigorous agreement amongst members of the public.
As the meeting broke up, few questions had been answered. Does Hounslow really need yet another faith school? I believe it does not.
See www.nishkamschooltrust.org/welcome-nswl/ to find out more.
December 18, 2012