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Gove’s Greeks don’t need a horse

27 June 2014


THE best sense I have read about "faith schools" and the supposed "Trojan horse" plot was actually in The New York Times, where Kenan Malik stripped it down to essentials. It was not so much that he made any new points, but he left out all the inessential ones.

"What the investigations have revealed is not a jihadist plot, but attempts to enforce conservative religious values. What is particularly ironic is that the Government itself has encouraged communities to pursue their values within schools.

"Ofsted guidelines published earlier this year permit Muslim schools to segregate pupils by sex, 'restrict' the teaching of music and art and allow girls to wear the hijab 'as a part of their identity and a commitment to their beliefs within Islam.' (In light of the Birmingham events, Ofsted appears to be reconsidering its advice, but no new guidelines have yet been issued.)

"If such practices are acceptable in faith schools, why not in all schools where parents may desire them? And if these values were unacceptable in the nondenominational Birmingham schools because they did not 'prepare pupils adequately for life in modern Britain', why should they be tolerated in faith schools?

"Whether or not there was a plot to take over Birmingham schools is almost moot. There was no need for a plot. By fragmenting the school system, pushing the mantra of 'parental choice' and encouraging communities to promote their values, the Government itself opened the door to Islamists."

But the entirely correct belief that this arises from parental choice only brings us to the heart of the problem. Always, in the background, is the gigantic failure in poor areas of the centralised state system. If you look at it in terms of incentives, as policy-makers tend to do, when children emerge from school functionally illiterate, this has worse impacts on their families than on their teachers. Thus it makes sense that parents should have more invested in driving up educational standards than teachers. But that, of course, presupposes that parents and teachers agree what the purpose of education is. It's clear from the story, that there is overlap, but not identity of purpose, especially when it comes to educating girls.

THERE was another trot round the houses for "sin" and "the devil" in baptism services, really because this was the least boring thing to come out of the Synod's agenda. We have had it only two or three times before, whereas the story about a crucial vote on women bishops has been written at least 20 times over, and there still aren't any of them around. Besides, everyone knows that there will now be women bishops one way or another by this time next year. It's just a question whether the Synod does it, or Parliament directly.

In the Telegraph, John Bingham had: "The Church of England has reinstated the word 'sin' into baptism services after a backlash from parishes who complained a new wording was 'bland', 'dumbed down' and 'nothing short of dire'.

"Plans to introduce an alternative order of service using more 'accessible' language, have had to be redrawn after members inundated Lambeth Palace with letters complaining the move went too far."

The Guardian ignored "sin" (actually because the reporter had forgotten the last confected outrage), and concentrated on the devil. The Mail went with sin. In all these, what was interesting was the implication that Common Worship was the traditional service, in the same way as St Paul wrote the Authorised Version, and a student once asked N. T. Wright to autograph a copy of it.

THE Mail also had news of Canon Jeremy Pemberton: "First clergyman who flouted the Church of England's gay marriage ban is fired by his bishop." This walks an exquisite line between exciting suggestion and banal literal truth. The only permission that Canon Pemberton has lost is the one he does not need to perform either of his paid jobs: one is as a cathedral singer and the other as a hospital chaplain in a neighbouring diocese. This isn't exactly being fired as the world understands it.

HORRORS across the Muslim world continued. The most improbable and interesting story about the chaos there was the Guardian's investigation of ISIS's social-media operation, which provides propaganda for jihad on Twitter and Facebook. It is extraordinarily sophisticated and nasty, both psychologically (part of the purpose of beheading videos is to frighten the enemy), and technically. They work, for instance, to ensure that their threatening videos climb towards the top of Google search listings for "Baghdad". It's graphically slick as well: "There are a lot of people in Isis who are good at Adobe applications - InDesign, Photoshop, you name it," one expert says. If they start using PowerPoint as well, the Axis of Evil will stand unveiled at last.

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