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Why Aren’t There Any Special Faith Schools In The UK?

June 11, 2013

Readers, on my latest visit to Twitter, I noticed an account I’ve never seen before, called @JewishSpecialEd. According to the profile, this account belongs to a “Jewish Special Educator who knows each of us is created B’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image). Leads workshops to help others develop more inclusive communities.”

Now, I don’t have any way of finding out whether this person only teaches Jewish people about special educational needs and inclusion, or whether they only teach Jewish children with special educational needs and/or disabilities. Most likely, the ‘Jewish’ is simply a reference to the person’s own faith and religious beliefs, which are clearly an area of their life that is very important to them.

Now, the real point of this article. When I first saw the account’s name, I thought it was owned by a Jewish faith school for children with SEN and disabilities. When I realised it wasn’t, I started thinking.

I started wondering if there are any special faith schools in the UK, for SEN and disabled children of any religion.

I know there are mainstream faith schools which accept SEN and disabled children. A few too many  years ago, even though I’m not Catholic, a Catholic school accepted me.

A quick google search for ‘faith special schools’ later, all I could find were a few  lines on how mainstream faith schools accept and treat SEN and disabled children. The fact that mainstream faith schools accept disabled children is, in my personal opinion, a very positive thing.

However, during that quick google search,  I discovered something which I didn’t know, and which came as an unpleasant surprise to me. According to the British Humanist Association, “It is unlawful for a special school to be formally designated with a religious character” in Britain.

So- this got me thinking about the overlap between disability and religion. About the religious identities of disabled children of school age, and their families.

I am a person disabled since birth who also likes to think of herself as a Muslim. By choice, my family and I are not overly religious. However, my parents taught me about my faith from a young age.

I coped fairly well in mainstream classrooms, so I didn’t need a full special education. I’ve never personally experienced a need for a special faith school, but what about those families who might have such a need?

What about those parents of children with SEN and disabilities who are religious? Those who do want their children to attend a faith school and be around children who share their faith? What if a special school would be the best place to meet the educational needs of a child who came from such a family?

What about children who are able to understand and follow their religion, but have SEN or disabilities?  Don’t they, or their parents, have the right to choose a special school?

Readers, I wonder why it is unlawful in Britain to have special schools that are also formally faith schools. Do you think this should be illegal?

The basic question is- don’t disabled children have a right to a faith-appropriate education? Or must those who choose to meet their children’s special educational needs also really sacrifice meeting their religious needs to do so?

christianity islam jewish

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2013 8:40 am

    I’m a secularist, and as such I think it should be illegal for *any* state school ‘to be formally designated with a religious character’. Every school should be religiously ‘neutral’ and so be equally appropriate for pupils of all faiths and none, just as other public services are (barring some relatively minor caveats about chaplains in hospitals etc.). I think that’s the best way to ensure that every child receives an equally appropriate education.

    There’s a contrary view that the best way to ensure that every child receives an equally appropriate education is to extend faith school provision such that every child has access to an appropriate faith (or non-religious) school: Catholics can attend Catholic schools, Protestants Protestant schools, Jews Jewish schools, Muslims Islamic schools, and so on. That would be fair enough in the sense that it would mean no group would be at a disadvantage because of their religious beliefs or lack of them.

    The problem with that, though – well, *a* problem with that anyway – is one of simple maths. Most areas just don’t have large enough populations of Protestants *and* Catholics *and* Jews *and* Muslims, etc., to support state schools for every group. Hence the smaller minority groups in any given area are always going to miss out.

    Point being: this goes way more than double for the small proportion of children who need/are entitled to attend a special school, especially when you consider that these institutions may already specialise in particular forms of disability. It’s hard enough to ensure that deaf children *and* children with severe learning difficulties *and* children with cerebral palsy, etc. etc., all have access to a school that can meet their specific educational needs. Introduce the principle that (e.g.) deaf Catholic children, deaf Muslim children etc. should have access to special schools with a particular religious character *as well as* the ability to educate them in a way appropriate to their particular disability and the whole thing becomes impossible.


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