Blog: One parent deals with the consequences of religious selection

Below, one (agnostic) parent anonymously shares her journal entry after her daughter’s first day at primary school – outlining their situation after failing to get her admitted to a nearby school (including the Church school next door) due to religious discrimination:

Yesterday my partner towed our daughter in the bike trailer to her school. I cycled alongside – against the flow of pupils headed for the local school by car and by foot. It was a tough slog up the hill. I will not be able to tow a trailer up that hill. So on the days when I take her, we will walk.

The shortest route is not a pleasant walk, nor to cycle, as it follows main roads. There are no bus links and it’s headed out of town; the wrong direction for work.

Mid-morning the Head of the school next door to our house phoned. There’d been an error, she said, our daughter was not first on the waiting list in July; the council has got it wrong. We were second, or used to be. Because then a latecomer joined the list with a religious reference so actually we were 3rd. Or used to be. Because now there’d been some churn and the two kids, who we didn’t know were in front, had got places. So now our daughter IS actually first on the waiting list. And this is good, the head said, because at 0.07miles from the school she is the closest of all the children who are close!
Are you following? No, neither did we.

I think she was saying that it is positive that our daughter is top of this list of children who won’t get a place. No one can get in ahead of us on proximity! Which, yes, could be good, if the school did not consider proximity to be almost irrelevant in deciding who would be admitted.

In any case, she was about to ring someone to offer a place, but thought she’d ring us first in case we heard about it and wondered why it wasn’t us. I said, not to worry, it was unlikely we would have heard anything as this family is probably not local. (ouchy!)

She then asked what school our daughter is at, if she has started and were we still be interested in changing even once she is settled. I explained the distance, that there are no buses, we don’t have a car and there are 3 closer schools, so yes we’d change. We’d settle even for the third closest as we could share school runs with the neighbours.

She immediately named the neighbours’ kids I meant. I was impressed. She may even know all the names of the local kids her school rejects. I thought this must be something to do with calling themselves a ‘community’ school.  And even though I didn’t say this… she went on to talk about the community school label, to say that she doesn’t agree with the religious selection policy, that it’s distorted in recent years so that few children in the community get in. She hopes it will change soon. In fact she thinks it WILL change soon (note to self…she has said this before in previous years… don’t get excited) but waiingt lists will still be assessed according the rules of the year of the original application, so actually no difference for us (see? Do not get excited).

I told her that I didn’t understand the purpose of selection; I know people from another faith who get places. She took pride in this – ‘yes we are a multi faith, multicultural school, as we should be’.

‘And you rank all these faiths in order of importance!’ – No, I bit my tongue just in time.

Here are the rankings:

Parish C of E, then out of parish C of E, then RC, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Mormon and other Christian faiths; then Islamic, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, Jehovah’s witness and other faiths. Agnostics and atheists.

Agnostics and atheists rank equally last, but, if you were to ask me to get into the spirit of these selection criteria, agnostics should have the edge. At least we haven’t entirely rejected all faiths.

I, like many baptised, confirmed and then lapsed Irish people, am agnostic. I think it’s hard for people like me to become a proper atheist.

My partner is an atheist. He attended a Church of England primary.

Our daughter has actually recently become a big fan of Jesus. She found Him on a hill in South America and we haven’t held her back. It will be her choice. However we haven’t signed her up to a church, because we are not members of a church. Some might say, if we were so keen she goes to the school next door, that we should play the game. I think that would a terrible introduction to a faith for her. Lesson 1: the art of discrimination. Lesson 2: hypocrisy.

To challenge it, I need to understand the spirit of the selection. I can understand a C of E school wanting to serve its parish, and would not consider it particularly unfair if they selected 10% from the local church; in line with their funding. But what’s the deal with prioritising any faith over those without a faith? Is this about uniting against the godless? Then. if that were the case, why prioritise C of E outside the parish over Roman Catholics and RC over Hindus or Jews?

Could it just be simply Ofsted rating chasing; they think that parents who make the effort to go to church are more likely to take an interest in their child’s education?

I attempted school pick up yesterday. I cycled up to the school with her scooter on my back rack, but coming back was a struggle. My four year old was exhausted and just whined. The pavement is too narrow to walk side by side, the surface too potholed for her scooter and there’s a lot of traffic. Halfway back she refused to go any farther and I called her dad to come pick us up with the trailer.

This on a fine dry day – what will it be like midwinter? Her father won’t be able to do this every day. We’re not in the worst situation. She has a school place when many don’t. Some kids have to travel even further. So I am not complaining, but I am angry and I don’t know where to direct this anger.

If it’s not the head.

And it’s not the Church of England (the Bishop of Oxford has come out strongly against selection).

It could be the governors.

It could be the local Diocese.

It could be the council and Government, which provide almost all of their funding yet allow 100% selection on religious grounds.

It could be all of them and none. I think they all bear some responsibility. While all of them, bar perhaps the governors, profess that they, they personally, don’t like the situation either, not one of them feels tasked to change it.

From my garden I can see the playground next door and hear the kids on their break. My ideal is that my daughter will be able one day to walk alone to primary school, not be trekked along main roads to the next neighbourhood. None of the parents who park their cars outside our house want that, neither for my child nor their own.

This morning we saw our neighbour walk his children the opposite direction to the third closest school. They are part of the local diaspora; the children allocated out to other areas. If even anyone else near us was going to our daughter’s school it would help; she’d walk more easily in the company of other children – though the pavement’s widths and the busy roads would still be a problem.