Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Letter to Ayatollah Adonis

Silly I know. But here you go:

Lord Adonis
Schools Minister (Unelected)
Dept for Education & Skills

Dear Lord Adonis, Schools Minister,

You have talked much since your appointment about ‘pupils of faith’. For example, on 25 October in the House of Lords, you said:

“However, it is permissible—as the noble Lord knows—for faith schools to give preference to pupils of one faith. That is the basis on which a good proportion of faith schools operate at the moment. That same right would apply to new schools established that receive a designation of faith schools, but we are anxious, as are the schools themselves, that faith schools should be fully inclusive in their local communities and they do not have the right to refuse to admit pupils of other faiths.”

By the term ‘faith’, I understand that the you mean a state of adhering to one or other religion. By ‘pupils’ I understand that you are predominantly referring to schoolchildren. The majority of whom will vary in age from 4 to 18. These assumptions leave a question which troubles me greatly and I hope that you can answer:

Question One: How will those schools that are entitled (or required) to give special deference to children of one faith identify such children?

Analogous preferences, for example, for political parties, careers, or sexual preferences are generally not exercised until the upper portion of the age range with which we are concerned. In fact, preference in all of these cases is, to some degree or other, legally prohibited through most of the range. The matter is more pressing as we are concerned with policy on admission to schools, which usually occurs at the start of the 4yr; 11yr; and 16yr tiers.

You may be aware that there is actually an interrelated common rationale for each of the prohibitions mentioned above. It is that the human brain takes a great deal of time to develop and reach mature rational judgements about important matters. Connected with this is the desire we all share that children should be free of the undue influence of adults in each of these cases. (I am sure that you will understand the importance of delaying such decisions. Indeed, you did not exhibit a preference for the Labour Party until 1995, when you were 42 years old.)

It would be my contention that, far from being a simple matter to choose a ‘faith’, it is a startlingly and manifestly more complex one than any of these other decisions. It contains an array of metaphysical, ethical and political questions. There will also usually be some set speech or written material relating to invisible gods or monsters etc.. which must be read, ‘understood’ and/ or interpreted.

I am sure that you agree about the importance of decisions relating to religious adherence. Suffice to say that it varies widely, and is not uniform even within the boundaries of particular religions. However, it can be said that some religions require a high level of submission to particular politico-ethical systems as an elemental precept.

To expect any child under the age of 16 to have the sophistication required to comprehend all this seems to me an extraordinary assumption. This leads me to my second question which I hope your Lordship will be gracious to assist me with:

Question Two: What evidence; statistical, scientific or otherwise; does your Department have which indicates a capacity for judgement about religious matters at the earliest age at which state-funded or partially state-funded schools will be permitted or required to select on the basis of religion? (I assume this age to be 4yrs).

On 31 January 2005, Lord Filkin (from your Department) was asked a question in the House of Lords. I would like to know the answer to a related question, so I wonder whether you would answer it for me:

Lord Taverne asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the national curriculum will exclude the teaching of creationism in schools.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Filkin): My Lords, creationism is not part of the national curriculum for science. In the programme of study for 14 to 16 year-olds, pupils learn about evolution and how variation and selection may lead to evolution and extinction. They also consider different theories on the origin of the universe.”

Question Three: Will the National Curriculum EXCLUDE or PROHIBIT the teaching of creationism or ‘intelligent design’ as scientific concepts, and if not why not?

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

Yours sincerely,


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