Their selective admissions policy destroyed my children’s confidence and caused us to move house because we felt ostracised from our local community when my daughter was rejected by the school.
It is a voluntary aided Church of England primary school, heavily oversubscribed, but it was the nearest one to us. It operates a selective admissions policy, accepting ‘Christian’ families first. When the time came for my son H to start school, I applied and he was accepted on the distance to the school criteria. He started there in September 2006.
Two years later, however, due to illness and other personal problems at that time, I was late in applying for my daughter P to attend the same school. It was my mistake of course and we went on the so called ‘waiting list’ for a place.
Due to our local state preschool being completely inflexible with their drop off and pick up times (which conflicted with H’s school), we decided to put P in a local private girls preschool. Luckily, we could afford the private school fees because of government funding for children’s places up to the age of five years. We decided to let P carry on to the reception year at the private school for continuity, in the hope that a place at H’s school would come up soon. We were led to believe by the school that we were at the top of the ‘waiting list’.
The school summer holidays came and went. One school place became free, but it was allocated to a ‘Christian’ family with no sibling link at the school. We were crushed, but kept hoping another place would free up and my daughter would get it. It didn’t.
The first day of the new school year came. I remember that September day very well. I drove past my friends and neighbours watching them take pictures of their children on the way to their first day at primary school. They were P’s friends, many of whom were at preschool with her, going off to school with their older brothers and sisters. When I dropped P off at the private school she was in tears, desperate for me not to leave, not understanding why she was left out. I went home and sobbed my heart out.
Another school year passed as I trekked between the two schools for drop-offs, pick-ups, after school clubs and other school events (which I only managed to do with the help of my very good friends – thank you!!).
The summer holidays arrived, and I met up with a mum in the local park who told me a place HAD come up at H’s school but it had been allocated to a family who had moved into the area a year ago! They had attended church for a year and got the magic ticket – a letter of support from the church.
That destroyed me completely. I had lived near that school for over fifteen years, waited for a place for two years, and they prioritised a ‘Christian’ family ahead of ours without a word to us. We were desperate. The school fees were draining our bank account and P was now five years old.
On the advice of the headteacher we went to appeal. A horrible process which was pre-decided because it was a class size appeal, despite the headteacher blatantly supporting our case the whole time. We lost the appeal, yet another devastating, crushing blow.
We wrote to Ed Balls, the Education Secretary at the time. He just passed our letter onto the Children’s Department, who promptly pushed us onto another department who couldn’t help. We replied back to the Children’s Department who patronisingly suggested we put our daughter’s name on the school waiting list! They were not interested in any cases of injustice at all.
The next school year was fast approaching, and we had to remove P from the private school for financial reasons. We did not want to put her in a different school where she had no friends or siblings, and the schools with available places were not good options. What was left? Home education.
From September 2009 to June 2010 I home educated my daughter. It worked OK at first, apart from my son starting to cry at the beginning of every school day. We got by, and P was a fast learner (when effort was applied!) but structure and discipline was missing. Social interaction with other children her age was limited to after school play dates with old friends. Still no place at H’s school came up. Things at home gradually went from bad to worse. The most upsetting thing was that I was losing my special relationship with my daughter. I didn’t want to be her nagging teacher, I wanted to be her loving mother. We were all miserable and depressed. Enough was enough.
We found a fantastic primary school further away and decided to place both our children there. Removing H from a school he had attended for four years was horrendous – he had spent half of his whole life going to that school and was very happy and settled there. It was very hard for him at first, but I am massively proud of him, how he adapted and took care of his sister, and his tolerance of it all. He is a true star.
But having to drive out of our neighbourhood to take my children to school felt wrong every single day. We didn’t pretend to be ‘Christians’ to get the school place, but we felt ostracised because of it. Allegedly, the Christian faith is inclusive, but unfortunately they are not prepared to practice this in our schools – paid for by our taxes.
The school governors claimed that the ‘ethos’ of the school would be lost if their Christian selection in the admissions policy was removed. What rubbish! There are plenty of non-religious families already in their school – which they are aware of – and it is still a Church of England school. They want to keep this system because it forces families to go to church, fill the pews and donate money, all to obtain the important supporting letter from the church which pushes them to the top of the queue for primary school places.
And the argument that faith schools produce better results? It is the pushy parents who put the effort into going to church to secure a place who will also put the extra effort in with their kids at home.
I am an atheist and proud of it. I am also proud to uphold my moral values (yes, atheists have morals too!!) and pass them onto my children. My children are well-behaved, well-liked, polite and are doing exceptionally well at school – despite religion, rather than because of it.
I wish the government would wake up to the problems of faith schools, and more parents would stand up and complain about these dreadful selective admission policies in schools, rather than use them as a method of cheating the system. These divisive schools are breaking up our communities, rather than encouraging different beliefs and races to understand, accept and live together. If they put in place a system whereby parents can cheat to obtain school places for their children, there will always be those who do so. And now the coalition government is encouraging more faith schools as well as the ‘free’ schools. It’s a recipe for disaster for future generations.
We have moved out of Bath to have a fresh start. And guess what? They are now in another Christian primary school because they are no other nearby alternatives, just as in Bath.
Thanks for reading our story. I am not anti-faith nor anti-Christian, just against the shocking way in which it is used in the school system.
Related links :
My appearance on Channel 4! http://www.channel4.com/programmes/4thoughttv/episode-guide/series-1/episode-63