Children’s Rights and Birmingham Schools

Here we go again with more concern about the rights and the wellbeing of our children and young people. What do we mean by “child protection”? More political argy-bargy about school governance, accountability, countering extremism of various kinds – but who sees these issues from the viewpoint of the children themselves?

Ofsted throws six Birmingham schools into Special Measures in one fell swoop – and who even considers the impact of this on the children and teachers within those schools – when suddenly told that the schools are inadequate and failing to protect children properly?

In our view matters are made even worse when senior politicians and senior school leaders react to the Ofsted inspection of Park View school by spouting highly contentious views on the need for the school to become a faith school.

Park View’s local MP, Liam Byrne, respects much of what the school has been doing . . . he laments the manner in which religious devotion has seemingly been confused by Gove with “extremism”. Byrne suggests that one solution here may be that Park View, and possibly others, should become faith schools, if that is the choice of the parents.

Lee Donaghy, assistant principal at Park View, added: “The most pernicious idea in this is that people running the school are trying to force more religion on these kids than the parents want. It is not true. The parents wouldn’t be sending their kids here in droves if it were true. We give the parents what they want.”

So it’s the business of schools to give parents “what they want” rather than give children and young people what they need?  If a significant group of fundamentalists or religious followers of any persuasion want their children’s school to promote their fundamentalist or religious mindset then it’s necessary for the school to do so? This doesn’t even hold for the majority or the mainstream religious, political or philosophical viewpoint. It’s the business of a mainstream state school to teach children about various religions, philosophies and ideologies – not to advocate, promote or encourage particular sets of beliefs.

“Thank God there are no free schools or printing; . . . for learning has brought disobedience and heresy into the world, and printing has divulged them . . . God keep us from both.
– Sir William Berkeley
Governor of Virginia, d. 1677

What did you learn in school today,
Dear little boy of mine?
What did you learn in school today,
Dear little boy of mine?
I learned that war is not so bad,
I learned about the great ones we have had,
We fought in Germany and in France,
And someday I might get my chance,
And that’s what I learned in school today,
That’s what I learned in school.

– Tom Paxton

Jihad, anyone?

Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner have said the following about education and the rights of children to attend schools that open up their minds rather then lock them down or put them in chains:

“In our society, as in others, we find that there are influential men at the head of important institutions who cannot afford to be found wrong, who find change inconvenient, perhaps intolerable, and who have financial or political interests they must conserve at any cost.

Moreover, we find that there are obscure men who do NOT head important institutions who are similarly threatened because they have identified themselves with certain ideas and institutions which they wish to keep free from either criticism or change.

Such men as these would much prefer that schools do little or nothing to encourage youth to question, doubt or challenge any part of the society in which they live . . . “After all,” say the practical men, “they are our schools, and they ought to promote our interests . . . “

We believe that schools must serve as the principal medium for developing in youth the attitudes and skills of social, political and cultural criticism.

As for religious indoctrination . . . Alan Watts has noted: “Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world.”

Our own view is that adults can make whatever commitments they want to religions, ideologies and philosophies – but children and young people should never be compelled, coerced or persuaded into particular sets of beliefs and commitments. This is an absolute right. Children have a right to know about the many and various perspectives on religion, faith and belief, as well as various perspectives on politics, gender, sexuality and ethnicity.

Postman and Weingartner conclude

An ‘open’, non-authoritarian atmosphere can be seen as conducive to learner initiative and creativity, encouraging the learning of attitudes of self-confidence, originality, self-reliance, enterprise and independence.  All of which is equivalent to learning how to learn.

The new education has as its purpose the development of a new kind of person, one who – as a result of internalising a different series of concepts – is an actively inquiring, flexible, creative, innovative, tolerant, liberal personality who can face uncertainty and ambiguity without disorientation, who can formulate viable new meanings to meet changes in the environment which threaten individual and mutual survival.

The question is not whether we increase the number of faith schools but whether we ought to secularise or semi-secularise the ones we already have in the interests of children, learning, and the creation of harmonious societies.

Responsible parents and responsible religious leaders understand the importance of teaching children to respect the cultures and beliefs of others – to accept differences and to understand that we share very many universal values and virtues. It’s even more important that schools and teachers enable children to develop spiritual, social and personal intelligences and thereby become virtuous citizens of multicultural societies.



About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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