[from: National Secular Society]
Vicar admits middle-classes are fiddling church school places
A vicar in Finsbury Park, London, has criticised middle-class parents who “play the system” in order to get their children places in church schools when they aren’t really Christian.
The Reverend Stephen Coles of St Thomas the Apostle Church says that the mushrooming demand for places in well-performing Catholic and Church of England Schools is sidelining vulnerable and disadvantaged children. Mr Coles told the Islington Tribune that parents are buying “improbable amounts of raffle tickets” and serving on the parish council in an effort to “outchurch” one another to gain favour with admission boards.
He told the paper: The church should be serving those people from tricky backgrounds who need help. But there is a higher percentage of middle-class white children than is reflective of the congregations in Islington. Christians are not being educated alongside their neighbours and this makes the children in these schools deprived. One parent told me that in her child’s non-church school ‘Christian’ has become a term of abuse.”
Mr Cole’s church is one of three linked to St John’s Highbury Vale Church of England Primary School. Ofsted praised it for its “uniformly high standards”. The School’s admission policies demand that the parents must live within the parish and attend church once a fortnight for at least a year prior to applying for a school place.
Mr Coles told the Islington Tribune: “Parents do know how to operate the system now. I had a couple who failed on the 12-month rule and they stopped going as soon as they didn’t get in. I get very sheepish ‘hellos’ when I see them in the street. I think if people are coming for calculating reasons I’ll tease them – God has a greater sense of humour than anybody else.”
Leaving aside the cleric’s cringe-making remarks, his observations were reinforced by a letter in the following week’s Tribune from a parent who had tried to play the system. His (anonymous) letter said:
“Having read Rev Stephen Coles’ comments in your newspaper, I feel compelled to confess my sins. I am white and middle-class, and after a lifetime of debauchery and self-indulgence I rediscovered my faith at around the time my eldest child reached the age of three. What made our situation rather unusual was that my wife is an Asian Muslim, and my children have Muslim names.
“When we started to go to church, we were warmly received. The church was packed with young families, and we soon made many good friends there. At the same time, I felt slightly ill-at-ease, as if we were there under false pretences. We would take our children to the crèche, and make sure their names were recorded in the register. My personal epiphany came on a summer’s morning during the holiday period. There was no crèche, no register and the church was virtually empty.
“Therefore, to some extent, I am in agreement with Rev Coles. However, the simple truth is that we parents are simply playing by the rules that have been laid down for us. If the churches want their schools to be more diverse, they should amend their criteria to allow this to happen.
“What is more, the local churches are equally complicit. They hold up the promise of a coveted school place; and in return we bolster their dwindling congregations. In the absence of these children I doubt the combined congregations of the three CofE feeder churches could fill one small church hall. Bums on seats increase funding from the diocese, and it would be disingenuous of the Rev Coles to suggest that he does not benefit from this tacit arrangement.
“While I can only speak of St John’s, there does seem to me to be another more serious problem, The school, inevitably perhaps, is so full of white, middle-class children that it struggles to cope with anyone who does not fit into this category. Our own son was so unhappy that we eventually withdrew him. Divine retribution, perhaps, but at least he is now flourishing in a school that welcomes and embraces his ethnicity. Any school should be capable of fostering uniqueness that is within every child, regardless of their class or colour.
“Before criticising the parents Rev Coles should perhaps ask himself why so many non-white and underprivileged children feel so alienated in church schools.”