In a series of shocking revelations marking the launch of Faith Schoolers Anonymous, a new service for pupil whistle-blowers, bloggers from a range of ‘faith’ schools have shared their experiences of the education they received. Their accounts reveal instances of abuse, discrimination, and flagrant violations of the law. The site, which launches today, describes itself as ‘a platform allowing anyone who has encountered a problem at a faith school to share their experience’ and also offers a confidential whistleblowing service allowing people to report or get advice on particular incidents that occur within their schools. Posts featuring experiences from within a variety of settings have already appeared on the site, including private Muslim schools, illegal Jewish yeshivas, and fundamentalist Christian schools.
The British Humanist Association (BHA), which along with a number of former ‘faith’ school pupils is supporting the site, has called on more people to come forward with their stories.
A range of personal stories from former pupils on the campaign site demonstrate the appalling level of education provided at these schools, as well as the misinformation and indoctrination that often accompanies it. One former member of the Charedi Jewish community described his illegal, unregistered school as having ‘crippled its students by denying them the education which they had a right to receive and preventing them from flourishing into active members of society’, and a member of the Jehovah’s Witness community posts on the site that ‘I was left totally unprepared for the real world… and my choices were severely limited’.
The incredibly conservative views on same-sex relationships espoused by such schools are also a notable theme in the testimonies posted on the site so far, views which often appear to manifest themselves in shocking and illegal disciplinary policies. One former pupil of a private Muslim school, for instance, reveals that ‘The school expelled students who were accused of being gay’, and another from a fundamentalist Christian school tells of how ‘identifying as gay can typically result in (at best) punishment and (at worst) expulsion and/or public shaming’.
The launch of the site comes in the midst of what appears to be increasing recognition of the threat posed by certain types of ‘faith’ school to both the rights of children and to the Government’s plans to tackle segregation. Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has repeatedly raised concerns about the prevalence of illegal, unregistered religious schools in England in recent months, and new legislation aimed at cracking down on madrassas and other religious ‘out-of-school settings’ has been consulted upon by the Department for Education.
Commenting on the launch, a former pupil at an illegal Charedi school said, ‘A lot of good work has been done in recent months to bring attention to the plight of children still trapped in illegal religious schools, as I once was, and that momentum has to be built upon if these places are to be shut down once and for all. Faith Schoolers Anonymous will be a vital tool in ensuring that the desperate experiences of these children stay on the agenda and do not go on being ignored.’
Aliyah Saleem, co-founder of Faith to Faithless and a contributor to the site, added, ‘As a pupil at a Muslim private school, my childhood was characterised not just by a poor education, but also by a total lack of basic freedoms. I wish something like Faith Schoolers Anonymous had existed back then, and I know it will help the many young people in a similar position who need an outlet to talk about their experiences.’
Another contributor to the site, campaigner and former pupil of a fundamentalist Christian school Jonny Scaramanga, said ‘Public discussion about “faith” schools focuses too much on the rights of parents and religious groups. I am excited about the role FSA can play in shifting the debate to centre on what is best for children, who have the most at stake here. We are giving a voice to students who have been harmed by faith schooling, so that their stories can be given the consideration they deserve.’
BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘The reason we’re launching this site now is to try to provoke a much greater awareness not only of the problems that arise within individual religious schools, but also of the problems that such schools, by their very nature, create. We acknowledge, of course, that there are plenty of “faith” schools out there in which problems of the kind described in some of the blogs do not arise, or do not arise to the same extent, but it remains the case that there are a huge number of people out there who have experienced indoctrination, misinformation, discrimination, neglect, and abuse during their childhoods as a result of the extensive freedoms and pervasive lack of oversight that “faith” schools of all kinds enjoy.
‘For the sake of the children still experiencing these problems, and for those who have all of this ahead of them, these stories need to be told, and we would encourage anyone who has had experiences of this kind to get in touch.’
For further comment or information, please contact BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman on email@example.com or 020 73243078
Visit the Faith Schoolers Anonymous website: www.faithschoolersanonymous.uk
Read the testimony of a former pupil at a private Muslim school: http://faithschoolersanonymous.uk/2016/05/as-a-young-girl-it-felt-like-almost-everything-was-banned/
Read the testimony of a former pupil at an Accelerated Christian Education school: http://faithschoolersanonymous.uk/2016/05/accelerated-christian-education/
Read the testimony from a former pupil at an illegal Charedi school: http://faithschoolersanonymous.uk/2016/05/life-in-a-charedi-school/
Read more about the BHA’s work on faith schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.