Royalty and religion make a treacly mixture. The Queen’s golden jubilee office came up with the idea of setting up a young people’s “faith forum”. It made a snobbish hash of it. It is taking lower sixth-formers from eight “faith schools”, half of which are private, fee-charging institutions, even though a mere 7 per cent of Britain’s pupils, and only one-fifth of its sixth-formers, go to such places.
The Hindus have no state-maintained schools, so in this case a private school was unavoidable. But why go to the expensive Immanuel College in Elstree, when there are several Jewish state schools, or to the Darul Uloom School in Bradford, when Muslims now have their own state schools?
But the oddest story of all is how the jubilee office ended up with a private Sikh school. It started by writing to Britain’s only state-maintained Sikh school, Guru Nanak in Hayes, Middlesex. But the office specified that it wanted a boy. The head, Rajinder Singh Sandhu, said that his best and most deserving lower sixth-former was a girl; and in any case, it would be good for the school to be seen sending a girl because boys tend to be dominant in Sikh schools.
The jubilee office was adamant. It had to be a boy, because it had already worked out the gender balance: 32 girls and 32 boys. Guru Nanak had been allocated a boy, and that was that. Moreover, though no age limit was specified in the original invitation, the jubilee office also ruled out the girl because she was just under 16, having entered the sixth form a year early. So, as Guru Nanak’s deputy head, Greg Hall – equable but irritated – puts it: “The Queen will have to manage without us.”
In fact, the jubilee office had already ordered up a Sikh girl – from Yorkshire Martyrs, a Roman Catholic school in Bradford. It eventually got its Sikh boy from a private, Saturdays-only school, the Hemkumt Centre in Isleworth.
What are these 64 pupils going to do? The Today programme’s James Naughtie, who will take the chair, thinks it is “refreshing as well as important for young people from different backgrounds and different traditions to be able to talk together”. But if we stopped segregating children by faith, and made every school a multi-faith school, they could talk together all the time.