Faith schools too hot for SWP

The left must takes this issue seriously, says Michelle Euston. After all, faith schools are envisaged in the government's white paper on education as a wedge to break up comprehensive education system

Twenty-four teachers attended the national Socialist Teachers Alliance (STA) meeting on January 7. Of them only a third wanted to see faith schools discussed at the National Union of Teachers annual conference at Easter. The Socialist Workers Party bloc in particular feared that the media would launch a damaging attack. Yet, regardless of what the SWP thinks, faith schools, along with company-sponsored trust schools, are envisaged in the government's white paper on education as a wedge to break up comprehensive education system.

Not to debate faith schools at conference disarms the working class - not least when it comes to the white paper. The STA is the largest left grouping in the NUT. It surely has a responsibility to take a lead in the fight for a fully funded, secular, comprehensive education system. Failure leaves the initiative with the government and the revived Tory Party under David Cameron.

The left needs to be unequivocal on this question. Secular education is about the state having no say in the religious education of children. Secularism is about religion being a private matter. Outside schools and other state-run institutions, there should be freedom for all religious cults. There should also be freedom for atheistic propaganda. Outside schools and other state-run institutions, all religious organisations and individuals should have the right to propagate their ideas and seek to win converts. Equally, opponents of religion should have the same right.

This is important for socialists. It is a shameful of the SWP (the biggest 'revolutionary' group on the left) to try and sweep the debate under the carpet. Why they want to is not hard to fathom - the Respect popular front and pandering to muslim voters.

On faith schools, Kevin Ovenden argues in Socialist Review that "denying parents of minority groups equality with those of the established Church of England will be seen as lining up with an unjust status quo. It is only by making explicit the right of muslim parents to have state-supported muslim schools that it is possible to advocate not separation and the embrace of the government's destructive proposals, but a common struggle for common comprehensive schools" (December 2005).

Communists have never lined up with the status quo on supporting faith schools of a particular denomination. We have always called for a complete separation of church and state and an end of all state subsidies for religious institutions. We support oppressed people. We support oppressed muslims, but we do not support faith schools of any description.