Isolating blacks and Asians in faith schools is immoral

The issue of faith schools has been buried beneath the rubble of the twin towers and the bombing of Afghanistan. New Labour is keen to have faith schools piloted and encouraged in the inner-city areas.

Among whites in the inner city, 2 per cent of the population attend church, while among West Indians, Hindus and Muslims the percentage attending a place of worship is much higher. It is among these communities, therefore, that we can expect most faith schools to emerge. Lee Jasper, Ken Livingstone's adviser on race relations, let the cat out of the bag when he described them as black schools where the history of black and Asian people is going to be taught. And huge doses of religion, too, I expect.

Neither Anglicanism nor Roman Catholicism prospers much in the black community, even though religion is on the rise. There are different strains of Christianity at large, and it would be quite correct to refer to them as Christian fundamentalism. Original sin and punishment guide the theology of this movement. Its adherents fall under the broad definition of Pentecostal. Theirs is a reactionary creed generated in opposition to liberal Christianity. The most successful have platforms on digital television. They pay tithes, and the pastors are sumptuously rich. The movement preaches doom and end-of-the-world Christianity. It is in these muddy waters that inner-city Christianity swims. Is this a sound background against which to educate children?

Let's say that those who peddle the message that it's time for faith schools are on a mission to rescue young blacks from the lures of inner-city living. They boast good exam results, better discipline and the only hope for the rabble, say, in Brixton. But it is not easy to get into faith schools. Children and parents are interviewed before admission. One of the models lauded by new Labour is run by Seventh Day Adventists in north London. The school screens parents with a vengeance. It is all black and aims to build a black middle class.

The many Anglican and Roman Catholic schools that exist have joined the secular throng as second-rate schools. The mass of ordinary Brixtonians go to them; they are ordinary Brixton schools. The vast majority will produce ordinary working-class citizens, and the elite would emerge alongside them. In the West Indian community, where education has been the only way out of slavery, expectations of education used to be high, but they no longer are.

This new love affair with education linked to religion is, therefore, a response to a crisis among the middle classes, who are unable to afford private schools and need to be assured that local schools would reproduce the parents in their children. This need is especially prevalent among Muslims.

But the isolation of blacks and Asians in faith schools is morally wrong. And what is morally wrong cannot be politically right. The experience of Pakistanis in Bradford is of isolation, and to reproduce this throughout the new communities is to set up disaster.

And why would politicians pursue a course fraught with such backwardness and division? It offers a political base for the black and ambitious. It is political opportunism at its worst. It plays to the weaknesses of the black and Asian inner-city communities, so steeped in ancient religion that they are not comfortable with the secular. This is the source of many of our current global problems.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.