A school is a place where children go to be educated.'( Collins Dictionary 1991 pg 892), therefore is there any difference between a secular or a religious school, as surely, the main aim is to educate the children in accordance with the national curriculum and not in an accordance with a religion. However, if you are being educated with the concepts of a religion is this a negative thing? And is there any real difference between the set up of both schools as surely education itself derives from a religious background. All these ideas I will endeavour to explore in my following discussion.
I looked at two schools in the local area, both were girls schools, one being a religious school of Roman Catholic origin, named Notre Dame School for Girls', and the other being a secular school known as Devonport High School for girls. Initially, I didn't imagine that there would be an awful lot of difference between the two schools, however this wasn't the case. The first thing that I noticed, was the drastic difference in the results for GCSE students and A level results. DHSG had a 98% pass rate of pupils getting A-C grades whilst Notre Dame only had 63% of their pupils attaining A-C grades in their GCSE examinations in year 2004. There could be a number of reasons for this contrast, one of which could be that Notre Dame added an additional curricular time for religious worship or retreat, which or course took away some of the time set aside for more standard curricular, academic studies. This time of worship wouldn't be available to students at DHSG and so this extra time could benefit these pupils into gaining higher grades. Although it obviously depends on the aims of the school and whether more emphasis is based on intellectual understanding or spiritual growth, so really it is based on what the school wants to give its pupils, and whether grades actually have any standing in today's society. Another difference I was aware of, was that of the introduction, or Head Teachers aims for the school. DHSG's mission statement was very direct, and made no comment on spiritual growth or any kind of moral strengthening, but made clear the aim is to educate girls in the fullest sense, so that on leaving school they have the ability to express themselves clearly, have responsibility and a belief in their own worth.' (introduction to DHSG Website). This aim made it very evident that girls were being sculptured into a way for the ever changing modern world so that they could confidently, and individually cope with its fast pace and inconstancy. Although there was no mention of faith, or spiritual building, this could be involved in what they mean by belief in their own worth.' (DHSG website)
This introduction was very different to that of Notre Dame, where the Head teacher's first aim was as follows: We are a community within the roman catholic tradition, striving to prepare young people for life and promoting Christian ideals.' (Notre Dame Mission Statement) This really surprised me as I didn't expect the schools first aim to be an announcement of Christian promotion, but on more of an educational aim. The idea of a community' seems the focus of the aims, as of its numerous mentions in the mission statement. This differs from DHSG where their was a greater influence on individual, and unique growth, with each child. This sense of a community is a very religious and spiritual idea, and builds a sense of belonging into a child, perhaps one that they may lack from family or friends. This community idea relates to that of a church, where every member may feel part of a faithful, united family, however is this a good idea? As should a school replicate a church? Yet is this the aim of the school, to create a church like atmosphere, one where perhaps the child can feel safe and express through work and worship'. This concept of a collective worshipping family within a school, may be of great value to a child who is perhaps lacking a sense of collective love, faith and needs some direction. Another comment expressed in Notre Dame mission statement is that it is the schools goal that the children experience God's love through this community'. (Notre Dame Mission Statement) I feel this is a lovely idea to try and explore and share God's love through the schooling life, although I'm not sure whether it should really be left to the teachers of a school to inflict or encourage worship. I feel that perhaps it is better for the two ideas to stay separate, religion and education, however as I said before they may go hand in hand. The church was the only provider of education until 1870, when the government brought in an education act, whereby all children should be provided with an education, not just those from a religious background or standing. After this time, towards the end of 1944, independent schools really took over as the churches could no longer compete with them because of lack of facilities and the education of the children suffering as a result of this. Education in its primitive terms can date back to the Greeks as educators and philosophers such as Plato took great inspiration from Greek mythology and faith.
Another main difference that I found was the contrast in topics for each school's Religious Education lessons. Notre Dame up until GCSE stage only studied their own Roman Catholic origins, reading about their sisters and sacraments. This contrasted greatly with the context of DHSG's Religious Education classes, where they studied, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and many more. I felt the reason for this was that Notre Dame obviously catered for families who were Roman Catholic, and therefore it seemed pointless in educating the children to any other religion, as they had made up their minds what faith they believed in and so it would be time wasted. I feel that DHSG studied a variety of religions because that is what makes up our society.
" All teachers are educating children for life in a multi-faith and multi-cultural society - because that is the society that we live in." ( Cole, 1983, pg11). This quote addresses the idea that in today's world, there is no excuse for not studying various religions as that is the make up of our society so we should celebrate it. I also feel that by educating a child with only one religion, it is like saying there is only one choice for a faith, and obviously this is not right. I feel that generally a child should be given the choice to study all faiths to acknowledge where their morals lie and with which religion best fits them. Although you can educate a child in various religions I always find it very difficult when considering that the teacher has their own religion and opinions and undoubtedly, through discussing certain issues and ideas about religions these personal opinions and views will come through, and perhaps influence the child in a certain way. Therefore I'm not sure whether there is any difference between secular and religious schools, as every Head teacher, and teacher will have their own faith or ideas on religion and as I said these will be inflicted upon the children, whether that be in a good way or not. So therefore surely there is no such thing as a secular school as every school is a religious school due to their being humans with individual beliefs who cannot help but be slightly bias with their own views in some cases, surely the only difference is that a religious school from the offset celebrates what religion it follows, and a secular school does not publicise what faithful concepts it adheres to, but it will follow ideals of a religion.
Another comparison between the two schools that I researched, is the way in which the assemblies where carried out. With DHSG the assembly merely seemed a chance for teachers to highlight problems and read messages, there were no hymns or prayers in day to day assemblies, but only at religious times of the year or special occasions. I feel this is sad, as with Notre Dame the assemblies seemed to be a time for unity and celebration of each other and this sense of unity is perhaps where DHSG's students are missing out. I feel it is imperative as a school to embrace each others achievements and be together as a unity, whether that be through hymn, prayer or worship in the broader sense.
One concern that I do have with Religious schooling is that of a prejudice that if the child does not come from, for example a Catholic family, they will not be accepted into the school, even if they agree with the school ideals and morals.
Education in school should be related to the children we teach and to the world in which they live, so the strategies may not be identical everywhere' (Owen, 1983, page 81) I really agree with this quote and I feel that both the secular school and the religious school are relating its education to which the environment that it lives, as for the more individual, more academic education of a secular school, it is preparing the child for a competitive, confident world where nothing comes easily, and the religious school is making them aware of faith, culture and the different interpretations of this all over the world. Although I do worry that both schools aims are focusing on what the parents want and possibly not what they can offer the child. Although you as a parent know that your child is going to be installed with the concepts of the religion that you believe in, and be protected from the condemnation of the world, it is not the duty of the school to induct them into a particular faith, this is the work of the home and church. It is also imperative to remember that even though schools may seem secular, this does not mean that religious children or children will certain morals, will not attend these schools, so every teacher's aim whether at a secular or a religious school should be to nurture the child through education which is fitting to them. Religious and the secular are in one sense opposites but in another they are intertwined. There is almost nothing regarded as religious which cannot also be secular.' (Martin, 1969, pg3 ) I completely agree with Martin as at the simplest level secularisation means there is less frequent attendance to churches, less prayer and generally less religious observance in the child's home. However just because worship is less frequent, does not mean that there is a divided line between avid worshippers and those who are not so. Surely this would be creating a greater divide in our society?
One concept that does worry me, that even today after the 1988 reaffirmation of the education act, Religious education remains the least taught subject and the Cinderella of the curriculum.' (Cole, 1994, pg24) It is no wonder that religious schools still thrive when R.E isn't a priority in many schools. In DHSG Religious Education has the least provisions and funding out of every subject that they teach. This really shocked me as for one of the oldest subjects in historical contexts it isn't celebrated in today's society, so no wonder parents with a religious faith fear to send their child to a secular school.
In conclusion, both of the schools aims seem, on the surface very different, however after really examining these differences I do not feel they are a direct result of one school being a religious school and one not. Both schools aims highlighted a need to install morals and educate in accordance with the national curriculum; the only difference that remains is the way in which they do this. Each different school suits each very unique and different child and it is the choice of the parent, who knows the child best to placing that child in an environment that best fits them.