Gove says he is open to atheist-run free schools

Richard Dawkins Professor Dawkins said he would never want to indoctrinate children in atheism

Atheists could set up their own schools in England under the government's education reforms, Education Secretary Michael Gove has said.

Mr Gove said he would be "interested" in proposals from individuals such as atheist Professor Richard Dawkins.

Last month Prof Dawkins, who wrote The God Delusion, said he liked the idea of starting a "free-thinking free school".

Under Mr Gove's "free schools" plan, parents, teachers and others will be able to set up their own schools.

But Mr Gove said he would not choose such a school for his children.

Answering questions from MPs on the Commons education select committee on Wednesday, Mr Gove said: "One of the most striking things that I read recently was a thought from Richard Dawkins that he might want to take advantage of our education legislation to open a new school, which was set up on an explicitly atheist basis.

"It wouldn't be my choice of school, but the whole point about our education reforms is that they are, in the broad sense of the word, small "l", liberal, that they exist to provide that greater degree of choice."

'Sceptical and critical'

Mr Gove, whose two children attend a church primary school, told the cross-party group of MPs that he "recognised that there are some people who explicitly do not want their children educated in a faith-based setting".

"One of the principles behind our education reforms is to give people the maximum amount of choice so that those people, and they may not themselves necessarily have a very strong religious faith, but who believe that the ethos and values of faith-based education are right for their child, have that choice but others who want a different approach can take it as well."

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Gove said he had seen a reference to Professor Dawkins expressing an interest in establishing a school.

"If Professor Dawkins wants to set up a school we would be very interested to look at an application."

In June, Prof Dawkins said in a conversation on the Mumsnet website: "I like the idea very much, although I would prefer to call it a free-thinking free school.

"I would never want to indoctrinate children in atheism, any more than in religion. Instead, children should be taught to ask for evidence, to be sceptical, critical, open-minded."

Your comments

Gove has shown why he is a politician and not a gifted thinker like Dawkins. Dawkins does not wish to set up 'explicit atheist' schools, because that would be as much of an indoctrination as faith-based ones, rather, he would prefer ones where students are allowed to be sceptical of any dogma, religious or otherwise.

Steve, Sheffield

This is a wonderful idea. As an atheist I have no desire to send my child to any faith based school where religion is presented as fact. I do, however, want all of my children to learn about the belief systems of all major religions so that they may respect and understand the opinions of their fellow humans. Prof Dawkins' desire to have children learn to think critically without indoctrination is fantastic; by teaching different viewpoints and encouraging youngsters to think for themselves we can hopefully create a generation of respectful adults that don't take everything they see in the media or everything they hear from their peers at face value.

Helen, Calgary, AB (formerly Wigan, Lancs)

I am member of British Humanist Association, but against Dawkins idea. I want all schools to be secular with no morning worship. France has got it right. Parents can send children to church if they want but schools should be free of religion.

Lorraine, Wales

I do not agree with this idea. However I agree with Prof Dawkins last statement, that children should be allowed to make up their own minds. Even Church run schools should not ram religion down the throats of children, if anything it turns them against the idea rather than encouraging it. Religion should be taught initially to introduce it to young children and then be an optional subject free from exams and the pressures that exist at present.

Phillip, Spain

I think it's a great idea, and the fact that the government is willing to support it shows that we're finally entering the modern world, not by excluding faith-based schools, but by giving those who don't want such an education for their children the personal choice to reject it.

Alex, Blandford Forum, England

I'm in favour of the idea. Sounds like it could be quite empowering for children as people don't need faith in ethereal beings but in themselves. Personally I think faith schools should be abolished as they are divisive and work against community cohesion.

Peter, Scarborough

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