Religion in Education: The latest debate

The latest Faith Matters Question Time took place at Farm Street in London last night. A panel of four debated whether religion should be part of education in the latest discussion organised by the Mount Street Jesuit Centre and the Agency for Evangelisation.

The debate chaired by Fr Dominic Robinson SJ included Jonathan Bartley, the Founding Director of Ekklesia, the Christian Political Think Tank. His own experience of trying to find a place for his son in a faith school has led him to consider whether Christian schools always have a Christian ethos, and he asked: What values make a school Christian?

Another panellist, Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association, gave an overview of the different approaches to the place of religion in education taken by other European countries, and wondered which sort of educational institutions best achieve the aims we have for our diverse British society.

Next to consider whether religion should be part of education was Professor Sandra McNally who is the Director of the Education Programme at the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. She is also a contributor to Thinking Faith, the Jesuits in Britain’s online journal, and a parishioner at Farm Street. She said that as our society becomes more and more diverse, faith schools were increasing in importance as they make a positive contribution to social cohesion.

The final panellist was the Former Ambassador to Pakistan and to the Holy See, Francis Campbell. He was appointed Vice-Chancellor of St Mary’s University College earlier this year and argued that in his experience faith schools have been a bulwark against violence, not a contributor to it. His own education in a faith school had, he said, been invaluable in preparing him for his postings with the Foreign Office.

The panellists then faced questions from the audience about school admissions policies, the role of schools in passing on the faith, and the religious character of higher educational institutions.  A lively discussion concluded with the announcement that the next Faith Matters Question Time event, which will take place in early 2015, will look at the pressing issue of human trafficking.

Photo: (left to right) Sandra McNally, Dominic Robinson SJ, Jonathan Bartley and Andrew Copson at the Faith Matters debate, copyright