‘Faking it’ for Church Schools

I spoke to a teacher colleague today who openly admitted that she was going to attend her local church in order to guarantee a place for her child in the ‘good’ church school nearby. We live in the same area and the thought has also crossed my mind. I know a number of parents at my son’s nursery who ‘religiously’ attend the Sunday morning service since the school admission criteria changed to favouring (after ‘looked after children’ and ‘siblings’) ‘Church Children.’ This means the parents of children who have attended an act of worship at least once a month during two years prior to their school application. Then it’s just ‘Priority Area’ children, so all the ‘non-middle class’ parents end up going to the ‘less academically successful’ school down the road. (Lots of inverted commas – no one ever says these things ‘out loud’!)

Back to my own thoughts/experience: I attended the local church a few times on the Sunday morning service. It was all very jolly and we sang songs and played with instruments and there were lots of lovely people. But then one day, an officious church warden lady stood up and talked about ‘getting your child into the church school.’ You can’t just turn up for a few sessions, you have to request a letter from the Parish Clergy in consultation with the Church Wardens (just try getting past them!) confirming the parent’s Christian commitment and regular attendance. This includes a commitment to the ‘life of the church’ helping out with coffee mornings/events etc. I get it, if you are actually religious that’s great. I also understand why some parents go along even if they’re not religious – because they want to get their kids into the ‘good’ school. However, after that officious lady stood up I thought, how has this got anything to do with modern education? It doesn’t sit well with me and I felt like a fraud. I love churches. I may or may not believe in a sort of God but I don’t agree that I have to turn up on a certain day at a certain time to show my commitment to anything. It feels hypocritical. Isn’t it a bit ridiculous that many of these parents are going to turn up for two years and as soon as their child is in school, church attendance stops?

Being a teacher myself, I know that there are strong opinions about what makes a ‘good’ school and a ‘bad’ school and I know to what lengths parents go to get their kids into the ‘good’ school but it’s just a shame it has to be this way. ‘Back in my day..’ we went to the nearest school and it all seemed so different. There were no league tables and people didn’t talk about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ schools. Now, it seems so much more complex. Added to this, in my area, there is new housing (NIMBY!) which will mean more parents trying to get their children into the ‘good’ schools. It’s difficult to not get swept up in it all.

This is not a new topic, it’s long been an unwritten rule of the middle-classes to strategically move or attend church in order to get their children into a good state school. But after my conversation today, I felt quite strongly that is isn’t right. I don’t blame the parents. I don’t really know who is to blame. I guess it benefits the church congregations and the so-called ‘sharp-elbowed’ parents. Yet, some believe that it causes social division and ‘sink’ schools in areas. It’s a complex, controversial and ongoing issue but I thought I’d put it out there as perhaps it needs to be more of an open debate that we should continue to have.

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