I’m a bit pissed off. I came across a tweet by @BenGoldacre this weekend that said, and I quote “CofE planning to build more faith schools. Free selective education for posher ppl who tolerate god.”
…and I thought, ‘my children have gone to CofE schools does that mean I’m posh!? If so where’s my high earning wage, my house full of designer furnishings and my nice expensive car and trophy husband and …..’ you see where I was going and then I thought, ‘maybe what I perceive as ‘posh’ isn’t the same thing?’. I talk well (or at least I can do, I’ve lapsed somewhat), I spent three years at drama school learning how to do so, it doesn’t reflect my wealth (lack of) or working class background, although I may now be middle class because of how I speak and the fact I passed my ll+ and went to a Grammar School. I don’t have a pension so, possibly that tips me back into the working class – ‘non posh bracket’ I don’t know. I’m pissed off and confused because where I live, the primary schools are all CofE or faith schools and ideally you send your child to the nearest, there really isn’t much choice. If you’re a Catholic you may choose to be more selective, we have a few of those as well but there were/are Catholic children at my daughters schools plus families from other countries and non religious backgrounds – in short a lovely rich mix of backgrounds and cultures and I don’t remember filling in an admissions form that asked me to state my yearly earnings. Neither do I understand why people are so het up about CofE schools being selective – where are these schools and who produced these figures? Does this mean that the rest of the country do schooling so very differently from Wiltshire?
From a parents perspective, my daughters schools were/are exactly what I wanted them to be a nurturing, caring, happy environment where my daughters enjoy/ed learning and had a range of friends that lived near enough to socialise with. Academically, CoE schools in our area suffer from lack of funds for things like special needs support and books and I would argue, take the lions share of children from ‘poor families’. Children of wealthier families tend to go to local private schools, or are driven over the County border to schools in other counties. As for the negative impact of a ‘christian ethos’ not once has christianity been pumped down my daughter’s throats at school but the message of caring for others and the world we live in has, and respect for ourselves and for others and also tolerance. Being a parent of a child at a CoE school was beneficial, I mixed with a wide range of people from Doctors, Surgeons, Cleaners, Health Workers, Shop Assistants, Bus Drivers, Police Officers, Single Parents, Disabled parents and Unemployed Parents and my horizons were expanded exponentially – money was never an issue in terms of exclusion from activities or participation because the Head Teacher was very conscious of being ‘inclusive’. I was never made to feel ‘poor’ because we didn’t have a holiday abroad or had to buy second-hand uniform or looked down on for the time we were on benefits and really struggling. Arguably CofE schools are so conscious of offending anyone that they bend over backward to please people from non-christian backgrounds, unlike other faith schools where pupils are very conscious of the faith environment they are learning in and its often restrictive ethos. It may not be the case anymore but Wiltshire had the highest proportion of children on free school meals attending their largely church funded/supported schools in 2000. It must be very different elsewhere because Ben Goldacre and Tom Fletcher say so and apparently so do the ‘figures’.
I’m pleased to say, my quality of life has improved since my eldest was at primary school my earning bracket hasn’t changed a great deal but I have, you could say, a ‘christian’ commitment to work in parts of my sector where the need is greatest and the money/budgets the smallest. My early work in theatre and later in youth arts took me into schools and colleges across the UK. I still get to work in schools settings across the South and for me the crucial thing is balance and the fact that a good standard of ‘pastoral’ care is crucial in todays society. A headteacher who has an ethos of compassion, respect and tolerance, is considerate in their management, networked within the local community and whom maintains an outlook beyond the school gates leads a happy, healthy school. If we replace CoE schools it wont solve the problem of poverty, just as in my view it hasn’t created the problem of selective education – that’s not ‘faith’, that’s parental market force and the desire to provide the best you can for your children – poverty doesn’t change that. Just as the ‘poverty’ of poor education happens in all sorts of schools. As a society we have an instinct to group ourselves with like-minded people who share common interests. We have to be very careful how we look to shape the schools of the future and ensure that nurture and accessible, quality education of young people are at the heart of our education system but like the NHS we need to be sure it really is broken before we try and fix it, or we will will end up with something much worse.