Protestant monarch, but secular schools?

Last time I looked, the UK was not simply a constitutional monarchy, but one in which the Head of State and the head of the official state church are united in the one person. That state of affairs is underpinned by an act of settlement. It is not, yet, a secular Republic.

In France the school system is rigourously secular. There is a popular church system, but it is private. In the Guardian, David Pavett approvingly quotes Peter Robinson’s call for an end to the funding of church run schools, which in NI simply means Catholic ones:

Churches should be free to run their own schools, Robinson said, but not on the basis of state funding. Meanwhile, back in mainland UK, we have to wonder where the leading politicians are who are prepared to speak so frankly about the consequences of the state funding of faith schools. Michael Gove’s contribution is to encourage faith schools to seek academy status to avoid “meddling” by secularists. His latest initiative is to send a copy of the King James Bible, with a foreword by himself, to every state school. All our main political parties support faith schools and will accept or encourage more of them.

The defenders of faith schools say that placing children in separate religious institutions for their school years will not help to foster sectarian attitudes. We are told that faith schools organise events in which children will meet others from different faiths. This is just not serious. Nothing can replace what is learned by rubbing shoulders and getting along with others from diverse backgrounds on a daily basis.

The act of settlement may not provide direct protections in law for the Catholic school system, but the quasi religious nature of the UK state at least provides a constitutional justification for the provision of state money for religious institutions.

Given his robust defence of the Act of Settlement a few weeks back, it might be interesting to hear what Jeffrey Donaldson has to say on the matter?

  • Alias

    It isn’t Catholics and Protestants who don’t get on: it’s Nationalists and Unionists.

    Given that the faultline between the two nations in NI is political and not religious it is more likely to be the case that integrated education will simply bring political differences betweem them into the schools rather than remove those differences from the society.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    Yeah, maybe to an extent but it might make things a bit smoother when the kids become adults. It’s harder to demonise your nationalist / unionist neighbour if you had a significant shared experience like going to school together, sharing the same shite maths teacher, bunking off geography class together, getting off with each other etc etc.

    (However, Peter Punt might be taken a bit more seriously when he gives us his ideas as to how GAA sports, Irish and other cultural aspects will be incorporated into his proposed new educational dawn – at the moment it looks like he wants a shared system under his terms)

  • Drumlins Rock

    I think there is a sensible middle ground, I think there should still be some Catholic Schools where the culture and ethos has been particularly strong, ie. attached to a Cathedral or still active Monastery or Nunnery, but your standard school should be integrated and state controlled.

  • Reader

    Mick Fealty: Last time I looked, the UK was not simply a constitutional monarchy, but one in which the Head of State and the head of the official state church are united in the one person.
    There is no official state church, and the CoE is only ‘Established’ in England, not elsewhere in the UK.

  • You say tomatoes…

  • Obelisk

    Integrated education, the great holy grail we can all say is a grand idea if it weren’t for the pesky problems of implementations.

    And yet another example that Peter Robinson is a fantastic tactician, in using Catholic outreach to bolster his left wing in the face of the Alliance, YET A DREADFUL STRATEGIST.

    Maybe the average Nationalist isn’t too fussed about the border right now but they are certainly going to care about their schools and Peter’s apparent Integration solution of ‘defunding the Catholic sector and they can all join the state sector without reforming the ethos of that sector to being more inclusive’ is going to drive us away.

    How much more evidence do we need to declare he was being insincere? Frankly I think it’s more the political anoraks like us who are more interested in the content of what he said that anyone else. Anyone else likely had the sense to reject it as false immediately without wasting so much time on commentary or analysis.

  • Reader

    Belfast Gonzo: You say tomatoes…
    Does the Republic have a State Church, or just a tomato?

  • The “faith schools” argument in England is essentially a very different one.
    To some extent Gove and the like might worry about a faith school in Yorkshire teaching an ethos that is not acceptable rightly or wrongly in mainstream England. To some extent its about not emphasising ethnic differences and producing an “alien culture” where young Asians are detached from Englishness…….eg arranged/forced marriages.
    Gove has to steer a middle ground between appeasing liberals who might demand Diversity and more liberals who agonise about young women being forced into “burqas” (sp).
    And just as difficulat for him to appease conservatives who want traditional Christian faith schools to promote Englishness but are suspicious of Muslim faith schools ………and indeed Islamism as a kind of fifth column in their midst.
    People in The Guardian do what people in the Guardian do……go round in circles agonising about something. Doing nothing. The sectarian nature of Englands constitution is its dirty little secret. Celebrities might take out full page adverts to protest Primogeniture but they stop short of the logical liberal argument that Monarchy in itself is wrong.
    Historically Tories opposed 1688. Now they support it.
    Whigs/Liberals have gone the other way.And there are more historical precedents…….400 years ago, Yorkshire natives (educated in faith schools or abroad) came home to bomb London. A different type of Yorkshire native is doing the same on a London tube.
    Yet liberals miss the trick…..the nature of Monarchy is that it should be ridiculed at every turn……….not just by Frankie Boyle.
    Online petitions…..Europe yes. Death Penalty of course.
    Make Parliament tak about something.
    But theres actually an online petition (closing in TEN months time) on the future of the Monarchy. It has ELEVEN signatures as of today.
    Now of course the wording of that petition is hardly the liberals dream………but if they had any wit they would use it……….100,000 signatures is enough to make mischief. And surelytheres 100,000 republican mischief makers in England. Maybe not.

    Meanwhile back in Norn Iron…….nationalism NEEDS faith schools. Nationalism is about exploiting differences…that expose the fact that this is not a homogenous society.
    Post-1998, it is not in nationalisms interest to suggest that the Future is se in stone. Rather its in the interests of nationalism to keep the situation “fluid”.
    Whether or not that is a good thing is of course different.
    But lets be honest most of us who went to a Catholic school came out a nationalist, even if we are not always church goers.

    I can see an incentive in unionism moving away from faith schools (ie Catholic schools) and dressing it up as liberalism to attract some liberal support.
    But there is absolutely no gain for nationalism.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Obelisk, the msm didn’t have the sense to reject it, they lapped it up, and thats who the herd follow, dare you go against their set narrative.

  • Drumlins Rock

    FJH, if my neice were to go to a Catholic School for some strange reason, what in the teaching would i not feel comfortable with?

  • DR,
    I cant speak for you. In any school 2 plus 2 equals 4.
    Actually my late uncle recalls a former unionist Leader being at school with him.
    But if we assume that your neice would not attend specifically religious events, then it boils down to Ambience and of course History.
    I can only compare it to my own life 1963-70.
    But certainly being in the presence of/friendship of Catholics would probaby make your neice more open to their general attitudes.
    People might say this wouldnt happen……but surely the whole point of (say) Integrated Education is to give a new Ambience/Environment.
    At the SDLP Conference 2010……Rev Norman Hamilton made an almost aside remark……..that “there is no such thing as value free education”.
    And I think this is true of the three forms of Education…….Catholic, State (effectively Protestant) and Integrated.
    I speak as a person who had one son in four different forms of Education………Irish language nursery,”English” Catholic Primary, State Primary (for geographical reasons as our house was being built but stayed on as a gesture of thanks until leaving), Integrated School (a very bad one.. essentially his choice and we supported it) and finally Catholic school.
    #2 son did not go to the Irish nursery. He had the same Primary education as #1 but went to Catholic Grammar School (his choice).
    The reason that these schools systems exist is precisely because they have different values.

    Certainly 2011 is not 1957 (or 1963) and necessarily I cant “compare” how it might have been in another system.
    Would you or your neices parents have a problem if the teacher was a member of Sinn Féin? Lets face it in Fermanagh South Tyrone the vast majority of pupils would be sons and daughters of SF voters.
    Would anyone be happy if a teacher explained the difference between a mortal sin (one that loses your soul) and a venial sin as…………”if you shoot a policeman its a venial sin….if you shoot and miss, its a mortal sin” I expect at one time or another most Catholic children have been “taught” that.
    But essentially History. 1963-68 the course began with 1485 and ended up with 1945.
    The first history textbook by a writer called Fallon started at Bosworth….but each chapter was basic English history with sub sections on initially the Reformation and (always) Ireland…….from Silken Thomas onwards.
    Now of course there may not have been any overt propaganda but necessarily Fisher, More, Campion, Clitheroe were “martyrs”. Necessarily the O’Neills and the Earls were “heroes” and as I recall that was a pattern…….your enemys enemy is your friend………whether at Flodden or on the Spanish Armada, Mary Queen of Scots, Guy Fawkes, the Royalists, Bloody Judge Jeffries, the Jacobites, the French at Quebec, George Washington, United Irishmen, Napolean (after a shaky start), the Russians in the Crimea, the Afghans, the Germans in WW1…….to not quite the Nazis..
    Of course it wasnt always overt. The teachers comment on the Black Hole of Calcutta that it “served the bast**ds right” was of course an exception but the tone was et.
    Obviously this was my experience in a specific place (West Belfast) at a specific time (1963-70) and no doubt there are different or similar experiences for other Catholics in Omagh, Enniskillen, Newry, Derry, Armagh, Ballymena.
    And no doubt History………as I can testify from one sons experience at Queens is neutral and benign.
    But as any study of the rise of nationalism in mid 19th century Europe shows………nationalism is about defining differences….. a check list of geography, culture, language, religion, history, identity, folklore,….check all or most and youve got a nation.
    A homogenous Norn Iron is a unionist Norn Iron.
    Thats Robinsons intent……dressed up as liberalism.
    Thats why nationalists (SDLP & SF) would be mad to buy into it.

  • FuturePhysicist


    The COE is the established church in Wales too.

  • Reader

    FuturePhysicist The COE is the established church in Wales too.
    No – its a disestablished Church in Wales

  • HeinzGuderian

    At the very least Primary School children should be educated together.
    Absolutely no religious garbage taught to them at all.

  • Coll Ciotach

    The thought of bussing in to get integrated schooling here amuses me. Otherwise we would end up with Catholic/Irish Secular Schools and Protestant/British Schools ala “are you a Catholic or Protestant atheist depending on the area the school serves.

    The whole issue is purely political driven. Unionism wants everyone to get a “British” education and hopefully become little West Brits. Sinn Fein wants to be good socialists and ensure that everyone gets the same.

    To do this they need to ensure that the centre dictates and both imagine that they will control.

    Both cannot be right and therein will lie another problem as people get Taig or Prod history and games et cetera.

    But one thing is for sure. Both sides do not want parents deciding. They cannot be trusted to make the right choice. Better that their “betters” choose for them.

    Another lie is that children do not mix outside of school. They do – at least outside of Belfast and some other larger towns. So the education system neither creates, sustains or encourages the division. The “mothers knee” will do that and the weight and momentum of history.

    This is a non starter. Time to bin it. Let the people decide on the schools they send their children to. Or is this to radical for our graspers of power on the hill to contemplate?

  • ”if you shoot a policeman its a venial sin….if you shoot and miss, its a mortal sin”

    That is very funny FJH. I hadn’t heard it before. Did you make it up?

  • Any American visitor interested in civil rights history here inevitably asks why Education was never an issue in the civil rights demands as it had been in Alabama & Mississippi.
    The fact is that there was no material difference here.
    Everybody was happy enough.
    Noody ever wanted bussed from Broughshane to Crossmaglen or vice versa.
    The present issue….is a complete non issue.

    Take Mr Guderians point that at “the very least primary school children should be educated together” Which would work a treat in Broughshane and Crossmaglen.

    My own experience with my own kids is that its wrongly assumed that kids bring home things they learned at school…..which is only true to a certain extent. The bigger issue for parents is that they bring to schools issues they learned at home.

    Mr Guderian is of course at liberty to choose the education that he and Mrs Guderian want for the little Guderians. But it would be wrong of him to assume that other parents dont have the same rights.

  • No….Mr Canuck, I didnt make it up. I heard it at Primary School in West Belfast. Ive heard it also from other pupils at similar schools.
    Sometimes people claim to have heard this in Churches but I must emphasise that I never have.
    I would not wish to be take it too literally. Im sure circa 1961 1962, it was a “joke”..but nevertheless the 55 (yes 55) kids in the class who were 10 in 1962 were 20 in 1972.
    It creats a climate, an atmosphere. From the earliest age we knew we were nationalists as much as Catholics. In those days the whole nationalist thing was effectively a secret……..GAA, Irish language and of course nationalist politics are all much more visible now… it is a situation that unionists cant reverse and nationalist politicians would hardly hand an initiative to Robinson…….even if Robinson has been given an easy ride by people who have not really scrutinised his motives (so anxious are they to embrace the notion that the DUP is liberal).
    The agreement that the unionists entered into with Catholic Church authorities after 1922 clearly has not worked out well for unionists. Rather than being marginalised, nationalist kids were emboldened by Catholic schools especially after WW2 and Education Acts.

    Alas that Primary School is no longer standing in its 1961 form…….but about a decade ago, I attended a function in which the old school registers were available to be seen………although oddly the boys registers had disappeared from the BELB Archives. As a fellow attendee put it “they might be with Special Branch”.
    And the principal happily showed us the notes that Mary Murphy had done Law at Cambridge……there was plenty of observatons that others had studied at “Armagh”….. as that attendee put it to the Principal he himself had gone on to (the) Maidstone.

    Happy days.
    I suppose the BELB and Dept of Education have all kinds of rules about what can be said to kids these days.
    No mortal sin/venial sin jokes.
    Its political correctness gone maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad.

  • Although the Catholic schools in French are private (except for Alsace-Lorraine, where the Napoleonic concordat is still in effect and RE is taught in state schools), the state pays the teachers’ salaries in return for two conditions (which almost all agree to): the school adopts the state curriculum and allows students to opt-out of RE if they want. There was controversy in the 1980s when the Socialist government wanted to abolish state funding to religious schools, but there were such protests that the idea was abandoned.

  • The Swedish voucher system is an option worth considering:

    Provision wouldn’t have to be limited to religious patrons. Schools could be set up that would be orientated towards certain specialities (like music or sports) and prospective students could opt for which school suits their needs best. A one-size-fits-all approach, suggested by Robinson, would be the worst of all options.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Just thinking there, when the new ESA takes over does that mean the end of the CCMS? essentially integrating the systems from top down, bound to have some impact.

  • aquifer

    In the US successive waves of immigrants of different religions leads to religious warfare on the streets. The US excludes religion from state funded schools.

    The first bit was a lie. As they say there, go figure.

  • Red Lion

    A lot of the debate is around the consequences for political idelogies in NI should there be a reformed education system.
    My first focus is on the pure religious/theological side to it – the ‘practise’ of religion should be kept out of state schools, ideally all schools – no prayers at assembly etc and religion should be kept for the home or church on sunday,but the ‘teaching about religion’ should be part of a varied curriculem, including teaching about different christian denominations and the different world religions and none. Keep the practise of religion out of schools and let kids make up their informed minds as they get older.
    In a completely non-disguised swipe at the catholic church-there is no way they would agree to write themselves out of business like this-they depend upon the indoctrination of kids from a very young age, and keeping their grip on power.
    I think it is possible for reforms to take place-educationshould operate in as apolitical and non-practise-of-religion space as possible, as well as professional space.
    Someone made the comment would they be happy for their kids to be taught by a teacher who is member of Sinn Fein?? The short answer is i would be – so long as that teacher adhered to a strict professionalcode of practise around the teaching of political ideologies/religion, and any nnon-adherence by the teacher leaves them open to professional disciplinary procedures. Theres probably many protestant kids who have a social worker who votes sinn fein but politics doesnt come into the professional relationship and this can be copied for teaching, as it is for all professions and their regulatory bodies

  • JR

    I went to a catholic school, there were two protestants in my class even though there was a protestant school over the road, they seemed very happy and were both popular in school. The only differance I can see is Irish is taught as a subject once a week (you can drop it in thid year). Religious education which was the best 45min snooze all week. (I think Protestants take RE a bit more serious than we did but again can drop in third year) and Gaeilic football every so often in PE for the guys and camogie for the girls. (we also played soccer, volleyball basketball and did athletics). We also had a school mass once a year.

    Irish history was never touched in our school. We learned about the Norman’s, WW1 and WW2. I think it was a pity because it leaves people to fill in the blanks with any old crap their dads mate tells them as we see on Slugger daily.

  • the irony of this old religion/politic debate/state-of-affairs,

    if youcaste your minds back to our recent past to a case in England where a gay couple won damages for being declined a room, shared bed in a ‘christian’ guesthouse, declined by the religious beliefs of the guesthouse owners.

    The Christian Lobby hailing it as an attack on their Religious Freedom.

    Irony, Mr Jeffrey Donaldson, in defending the Act of Settlement is acting to deny to the Monarch, the same Religious Freedom the rest of Christendom on these islands hold dear for themselves.

    Mr Jeffrey Donaldson wants religious freedom for himself, family, friends, church etc, but not for his King or Queen.

  • antamadan

    JR: Has the history syllabus changed to an agreed syll of Irish history now, and a geography syll with emphasis on the island etc? (MMCG being an education minister and all).

  • FJH,

    In that case, I change my mind. Not funny if kids take it seriously or are not old enough to understand black humour.

  • “Rather than being marginalised”

    fjh, I thought it was more a case of Nationalist boycott with the Catholic Church in the vanguard and promoting a form of self-imposed apartheid. It’s my impression that the PRM has overtaken the Catholic Church in this community leadership role during the course of the ‘peace process’.

    You can see a similar apartheid attitude amongst the Conservative and Liberal Unionists in the 1892 Ulster Unionist Convention. Thomas Sinclair, Liberal Unionist: “Mr. Gladstone’s threat is a serious one, but, nevertheless, we can never falter in our resolve. We are children of the Revolution of 1688, and, cost what it may, we will have nothing to do with a Dublin Parliament. If it be ever set up we shall simply ignore its existence. Its Acts will be but as waste paper; the police will find our barracks preoccupied with our own constabulary; its judges will sit in empty court-houses. The early effects of its Executive will be spent in devising means to deal with a passive resistance to its taxation co-extensive with loyalist Ulster”.

  • Los Leandros

    This may be a minor detail, but the only problem with state schools is that nobody wants to send their children to them, least of all the liberal/left apparatchiks who bleat on about them. The labour party ledership in the UK ( & indeed Nick Clegg ) do their utmost to send their sprogs to Faith ( usually, but not exclusively , Catholic ) schools. State schools are purely for the great unwashed & to salve the consciences of the liberal left. QED. The state school system in secular France is beneath bog standard, Catholic schools being the cream of the crop. An inconvenient truth !.