Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Praying for a place - the great faith school scam

One of the more pleasant aspects of being a home educator is the amused condescension with which one can view those parents who are scrabbling around desperately for a decent school. The fools! Don't they know there's a better way of doing things? I have been thinking about this recently as a consequence of observing the new intake of parents with small children who have started attending our church this month.

Selective education is widely regarded as unfair and divisive. Still, whatever the disadvantages of the 11 Plus, at least it focuses upon the supposed abilities of pupils. The same cannot be said of the exciting and popular game of getting your child into a church school, or "faith school" as we now call them. This process, by contrast, centres on the ability of parents; specifically their ability to be as cunning, hypocritical and duplicitous as is humanly possible. The strange thing is that although almost all parents are aware of this, it is considered tactless and in rather poor taste to draw attention to it.

Modern life offers few more entertaining spectacles than that of militant atheists transforming themselves for a few years into seemingly devout churchgoers. At one time it was only necessary to put in an appearance once a month or so and have your child baptised, but these days the competition is so stiff that if you want a glowing reference from the priest, you have to put in the hours. Our local secondary school requires a ten year record of church involvement, which realistically means starting no later than the day after your child is born.

Several of our friends went through this process and we thoroughly enjoyed observing the various mental gymnastics this entailed. Of course the "Road to Damascus" style conversion is embarrassing and hardly ever convincing, so in general the thing is handled with a little subtlety. The first sign might be when the father of a young child announces casually that he himself attended Sunday School as a child and thoroughly enjoyed it. The next time you see him, you learn that his son is now going to the Sunday School at St. Jude's. No mention of school is made at this point and it is considered poor form to crack jokes about using religion to get into a good school. When the subject of St. Jude's secondary school does come up, the parents typically come out with a lot of humbug about liking the ethos of the school and how smart and well behaved the pupils appear to be. Only as an afterthought is academic achievement mentioned, "Of course, I believe their A level results are quite good as well."

The sheer effrontery is, in many cases, absolutely breathtaking. Individuals who have raved on for years about churches being full of paedophile priests and sanctimonious hypocrites, begin chatting about Father James and what a good sort he is, "Very liberal, hardly like a priest at all in some ways." By this time, the guy's wife is on the rota for flower arranging and Creche duty, while he is helping to organise the Summer Fete.

The churches themselves tend to be quite philosophical about all this. They know perfectly well why there are so many parents of young children offering to help out with Junior Church and so on. They also know that after their children reach twelve and are safely in secondary school, 99% of these same parents will drop church for good. Their attitude is that at least some of the teaching at Sunday School might rub off on the children and that it is better for them to come to church from the ages of five to twelve than never to set foot in the place at all.

We all do whatever we feel is necessary to help our children and It is hard to criticise a parent who feels that the only way to get a decent education for their daughter or son is to fight for a place at a church school. It just seems a shame that such antics should be required to get into the best schools. It surely cannot be edifying for a child to observe parents engaged in this sort of self-serving behaviour and it is at least worth considering how this might affect a child's view of religion in later life.

We have ourselves attended church regularly since moving here. Simone serves there most weeks, which means carrying candles and crosses, genuflecting at the right time, crossing herself all over the place and so on. When we moved here she was six. There was never any question of her applying for the church school and for some years we were viewed with suspicion in the church. I mean, why should a father and daughter attend church like that if there's nothing in it for them? You know where you are with couples wanting to marry there or get their kids into school. But just coming to worship the Lord? That's seriously weird! I got some really strange looks when I began running the Youth Club there. I almost felt like pretending that I was only doing it for a school place, just to allay suspicion.


  1. Perils of being an Anglican or a Catholic I suppose - attendance where we worship wouldn't get you into anywhere, except possibly (according to some) local mental health facilities.

    Portsmouth has(had) one of the few C of E secondary schools in the south; no need to queue jump there - last year it has the 3rd worse GCSE results in the country. As a consequence it has been closed and reopened as an academy this week, complete with trumpets and an education minister, and bizarrely posh new uniform , apparently designed by the pupils. As the school is still surrounded by tower blocks, I suspect it is the same old pupils though. It is now sponsored by a Christian charity, but has lost its faith clause as a priority reason for jumping the (non existant) queue for places; which is a bit odd really ie when it was technically C of E, faith counted, now it is run by an Christian charity it doesn't.
    The local paper reports "staff have bought minibuses to patrol the local area on the lookout for children who are missing lessons" - which leaves me with the image of the teachers having a whip round to collect enough for a minibus to operate a trunacy patrol...although in my experience a 52 seater coach might be more useful.
    I wish them well, although I know the previous staff were equally dedicated and worked hard...so for their reward they lost their jobs...

  2. Ah Julie, does that mean that you worship at a Pentacostal place or something like that? Your mention of mental health somehow suggests slain in the spirit/speaking in tongues. (That's not of course meant to be pejorative!) That sort of place is growing round here, even the Catholics lose members to them. I have never personally been much of a one for ritual, but my daughter, keen as she is on theatre, loves it. She is the sort of child who thirty years ago would have wanted to be a nun and a hundred years ago would probably have been developing stigmata by now.

  3. Oh no, it is an evangelical church but arose out of the local L'Abri, which itself was founded by Francis Schaffer - see
    for background.

    Buit then according to Dawkins, any faith is enough cause for doubts about mental health and all thoseintellectuals abandoning their marbles would drive him mad ...I think home educators come into the same catgeory for him, don't they?

  4. muslim church better

  5. al Ayman Zawahiri do you know who he is?

  6. "This process, by contrast, centres on the ability of parents; specifically their ability to be as cunning, hypocritical and duplicitous as is humanly possible."

    What, like people who are asked to leave email lists, pretend to leave and then carry on reading mesages? A bit like listening at the door after being asked to leave a meeting. How do you do it? Have you joined using a different email address, asked your daughter to join, or does another member of the list send you copies of other peoples mesages? The parents going to church are doing it for a good reason, to help their children. What is your excuse?

  7. My children and I were only just talking about this last week and how people we know have suddenly become devote Catholics. The school itself is good but others are better, it’s the whole illusion that church schools are better. People hear horror stories of the state schools via the press and assume church school offer better discipline and education .. Sorry doesn’t always follow.

    As to Anonymous .. if Simon follows the forums, I assume it because he has and interest. You are delusional if you just think its Home edders that use these forums. I know our LEA freely admits to follow all the main forums and many LEA's do the same to find problems families [There words].. so I'm told, I even know a teacher that does the same.

  8. Oh I wish all these anon people could help me to tell them apart... I don't need to know who you are..but couldn't you sign in as anon 1 or anon 2 or something....I have no idea who I am "talking" to...

    Written by Julie, who isn't worried about anyone knowing who I am, and who may not always agree with Simon...but it is good to have somewhere to discuss/ debate issues!

  9. Well Anonymous who asks how I get the messages from the EO and HE-UK lists now. After I was thrown off, three people were so disgusted that they contacted me offlist and offered to forward stuff. I thought it churlish to refuse. My daughter actually tried to join the EO list as she has many opinions of her own about home education. The moderators refused to allow her on. Just shows how keen they are really to hear the voice of home educated young people! The egregious Mike Fortune-Wood has also said publicly that he will not have her on his list.

  10. Don't get me started about Dawkins, Julie. We went to see him give a lecture when he was launching the God Delusion. His wife, who used to be in Dr. Who as Romana, gave readings from the Bible in a silly voice. That just showed us how stupid Christianity must be! I dare say that you have read stuff by Alistair McGrath, rebutting some of his more idiotic ideas?

  11. By the way, apropos of my still getting information from the lists. I have been asked by the BBC if I would take part in a programme on HE. The researcher to whom I spoke seemed to know all about the various lists and was more up to date about the threads than I am! I think that those on the lists can pretty well assume that it is a public space. I am the least of their worries. As Amy points out, LA officers join in order to keep up to date.

  12. Simon-and what will you br saying to the state controled BBC? how much you agree with that mad Badman? Your a traiter to home educators.

  13. Simon, do you have time to continue debating on the natural learning comments thread? I'd be interested to hear what you have to say.

  14. Allie, I am clearly not Simon(!) ...but following on from the natural learning discussion...somewhere in these comments Mrs Anon, drawing on her experience with special need children both professionally and with her own child, said something about some children not having the naturally occuring enquiring mind because of their special needs and I suppose the conclusion of this is the question as to whether you would accept that your successful natural learning style wouldn't work with such children?
    I never considered doing anything than structured learning approach with my daughter, but I am not sure if that is because I was (professionally) a teacher or because it was obvious that because of her autism, structure was neccessary for her happiness. Both are true, I expect!!

  15. "if Simon follows the forums, I assume it because he has and interest. You are delusional if you just think its Home edders that use these forums. I know our LEA freely admits to follow all the main forums and many LEA's do the same to find problems families [There words].. so I'm told, I even know a teacher that does the same."

    So if someone else does something is must be OK? Some teachers are paedophiles (taking your idea to the extreme), does that mean it is OK for Simon to be a paedophile? Just because LEAs teachers and reporters do it, it does not mean it is the right thing to do if you have been asked not join (like LEA, teachers and reporters). It hypocritical of Simon to say that parents trying to get children into a good school are cunning, hypocritical and duplicitous when he does this. I'm not surprised that they (LEAs, teachers, etc) do it, but why does Simon think it is OK.

  16. I think it is OK for me to continue receiving news from the HE-UK and EO lists because I joined these lists openly under my own name and using my personal email address. I was quite open about my views and made no secret of the fact that I wrote occasionally for the newspapers. I did not use any information acquired on the lists for any other purpose, certainly not for the two articles which were published. I have been a home educator for many years.

    I thought that the decision to chuck me off the lists because I did not condemn the Badman review was wrong and unjust. In particular, it meant that anybody could say what they wished about me and spread malicious lies, such as that I am a colleague of Graham Badman, and that I had no way of responding. This was unfair.

    When I was contacted by people who agreed with my point of view but did not want to tell others on the lists, I was grateful for the offer to forward the messages from the
    lists to me. I cannot see anything wrong or immoral about receiving this information and that is why I think it OK.

    The HE-UK list in particular was used after I was thrown off to co-ordinate a smear campaign against me by people claiming to the editors of newspapers that I had lied in order to join the lists. Mike Fortune-Wood made this claim which was perfectly untrue. Others were suggesting ways that my professional standing might be damaged. I think it right that I knew that people were planning these attacks. I quite see, Anonymous, that you would rather that these schemes were plotted without my being aware of them.

  17. "I cannot see anything wrong or immoral about receiving this information and that is why I think it OK."

    So the rules of lists do not apply to you. You are special and excempt and two wrongs do make a right.

  18. You compared my actions in an earlier post to one who listens at the door after being asked to leave a meeting. Yes, you are quite right and I feel perfectly justified in doing so. Here is why. After I was thrown off the lists, a number of people began making up lies on the HE-UK list in order to discredit me. They then decided to send these lies to the newspapers for which I had written. Here is Ali Egley posting on 2.8.09, in which she gives the text of a letter which she has sent to Gail Robinson at the TES;

    "Mr Webb seems surprised that the members of the home education email lists he infiltrated to "research" his article can't see the joke; hardly surprising, really, when we are fighting tooth and nail to defend
    ourselves against Graham
    Badman's spurious allegations of child abuse and incompetence, and are in serious danger of losing our right to educate our children as we see fit. Mr Badman, incidentally, is a friend if Mr Webb's;"

    Here are two downright lies in one paragraph. I did not "infiltrate" the lists and I am not a friend of Graham Badman. Are you really saying that people should be allowed to conduct a campaign of this sort against me and that I have no right to be aware of it? It was at this point that some other members of the list contacted me and offered to keep me posted.

    Under such circumstances I do not feel it at all wrong to disregard the rules covering the lists. They are nonsense anyway. As I have remarked before, Mike Fortune-Wood has a list of rules for those joining. Only home educating parents in the UK, for example.Professionals are forbidden Paula Rothermel, who is a psychologist resident abroad and does not home educate, is on the list with his full knowledge and approval. Other professionals with whom he has some sort of relationship are also lurking on the list. If Mike Fortune-Wood himself does not take the rules seriously, why should I?