Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Time to start an atheist school? Your chance to get involved

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Back in June, during a web discussion on the Mumsnet site, Richard Dawkins caused a bit of a stir when he suggested that he liked the idea of taking advantage of the government's academies legislation to start an atheist free school, or, as he would prefer to call it, "a free-thinking free school". This was followed a month later by education secretary Michael Gove saying that he would welcome such a move.

As we have found through reader discussions, this is an issue that divides humanist opinion greatly, with some holding that humanists should work within the system and actively demonstrate the advantages of a secular, free-thinking school, and others insisting that it would represent an endorsement of the faith school system.

Of course, this has all been discussion so far, and nothing more. But what if it actually happened? In our new issue, education journalist Francis Beckett outlines his proposal for Britain's first avowedly atheist and humanist state school, which he first mooted in the Guardian last month. As he explains, when he wrote the Guardian piece he wasn't entirely serious, but since then he has changed his mind. He has heard from many people who would support the idea and even become actively involved, spoken to the government advisers who could help make it happen, and he now thinks that the idea could become a reality. In his New Humanist article, he outlines the kind of school he envisages – secular, inclusive, firmly rooted in the local community – and explains how it could happen. What do you think? If you're interested in getting involved in such a project, you can contact Francis c/o

However, as Francis acknowledges, there are many humanist and secularist objections to this idea, and we asked Rabbi Jonathan Romain, who, as head of the Accord Coalition, campaigns for inclusive schools and an end to the discriminatory practices of faith schools, to put the case for the opposition. In his piece, he warns humanists against falling into the faith school trap and endorsing a divisive system.

So, what do you make of all this? You can let us know your straightforward stance by voting in the poll below, but we're also keen to hear your more detailed thoughts. In order to keep the discussion in once place, we've closed comments on this post, but just head over to main article by Francis Beckett and join the discussion thread there.

The November/December issue of New Humanist will be on sale in over 1,300 stores nationwide from tomorrow (Thursday 21 October), featuring the faith schools debate, a look at who won the Pope wars, the story of the rise of godless comedy, and much more.

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