Five ‘ACE’ years: my story of a fundamentalist education – part two

This is the second part of a two-part piece. The first part, posted last week, can be read here.

When I tell people I was home-schooled, they think one of my parents must have been a teacher (or at least educated beyond GCSEs), or that I had a private tutor. I’m met with faces of disbelief when I try to explain that I didn’t have a teacher at all.

I could memorise the information I was fed by Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) in their published booklets, but if I didn’t understand, or had questions, or wanted to learn something outside of that very narrow, biased curriculum, I had nowhere to turn. I feel like I didn’t learn anything at all over the four crucial years between 13 and 17. I wasn’t supervised on any level. After an initial period of enthusiasm for home-education, my mother lost interest and indeed the energy to try and make sure five young children were engaged with their studies. Most days, the youngest kids would be taken out to run errands and make visits to friends with mother, while the (slightly) older children were left in a house to get on with chores, clean and cook dinners. This is how I spent the majority of my days – keeping house and child-minding.

“I lost years of my life that I can’t get back and the consequences of which I will always have to live with.”

Because PACEs (Packets of Accelerated Christian Education) only require those learning from them to read a comprehension text and fill out the blanks in the sentences that follow, or to answer questions by slightly rewriting what you have just written in the text, it is very easy to fill out without any understanding or gaining any knowledge from them. What is more, the child is meant to mark their own work by checking their answers against an answer booklet. If supervised, the child should ask permission to mark their work. However, alone at home, it was easy to cheat. Entire PACEs could be filled out in one go by copying from the answer book. Without an atmosphere conducive for learning, with nothing to inspire or engage the mind and with no adult attention whatsoever, it is surely no surprise that the ACE curriculum, such as it is, would be misused.

What is more, as home-schoolers, we would only be inspected once a year at most. We would know of the date of the visit in advance, allowing us to knock-up a portfolio of examples of what we had been doing the past year. The portfolio would largely be made up of cute photos of us all crafting. Here we are basket weaving, here we are oil painting, here we are stroking a rabbit and learning about animal-husbandry. On the day the inspector would come, I would be in the kitchen making home made scones to offer him. We would be so pleasant and twee, how could anyone think that these children were being neglected in anyway? The inspector would then have a chat with the parent rather than the child who would be left alone for another year.

“Had I been allowed to develop my mind, broaden my understanding of the world, meet people different from myself, I am sure my eventual transition into the outside world would have been a lot more manageable.”

When thinking of home-schoolers, people tend to worry about their social skills. Will they be able to integrate into society later in life? Will they be super nerdy and unable to socialise? While I’m sure being home-schooled can make things more difficult due to the physical isolation from other children, I believe this is not as damaging as the isolation that comes from being totally alienated from the culture, common knowledge and shared experiences of the majority of the population. I put my social anxiety down to the deep inferiority I was left with once I entered the outside world and found out how very alien I really was. I didn’t seem to know anything that anyone else knew; from basic math, science, geography and history knowledge to understanding popular culture references, ways of communicating and finding areas of commonality with others. I couldn’t spell well, my vocabulary was restricted, I didn’t know the names of countries and capitals, I’d never been abroad. I hadn’t watched TV or “secular” films. I didn’t know any songs on the radio or the names of any celebrities. Wherever I went, I was always the freak and the outsider.

A quote from the first part of this piece.

The combination of physical, intellectual and cultural isolation has resulted in my suffering from social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, generalised anxiety disorder and chronic depression. If I had had at least one of those areas intact, had I been allowed to develop my mind, broaden my understanding of the world, meet people different from myself, I am sure my eventual transition into the outside world would have been a lot more manageable.

I don’t know what my future would have looked like if there wasn’t an intervention around the age of 17. This did not come from a government worker or any other official. Simply, my mother had a nervous breakdown and I could no longer safely live in the same house as her. This being known within the church, another family took me in temporarily. I continued to do my PACEs during my stay with them; sometimes I had the company of the mum of the house who was doing an Open University course, sometimes I was alone because the parents were at work and their two children at school. They had a daughter who was my age and she was applying to do her A Levels at a local grammar school. They thought, why not try to enrol me as well? This was how I escaped. The school took a chance on me. A family supported me. Of course it was extremely challenging entering the school system, but that’s more than I can say here.

Ten years later, I still feel the effects of having been stunted in my education and development. I feel I was prevented from achieving my full potential, even from achieving a small percentage of my potential. I lost years of my life that I can’t get back and the consequences of which I will always have to live with.

Anonymous

Facts vs falsehoods: churches continue to mislead on how inclusive their schools are

“It is a sad state of affairs when a humanist organisation will stand up for the rights of Muslims to access a wide variety of schools, but a group purporting to be the national Muslim body won’t do likewise.”

Last week the British Humanist Association (BHA) published research challenging misleading claims made by both the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service that their schools were inclusive of pupils from Muslim backgrounds, with many schools even taking a majority of Muslim-background pupils.  

The research was published on the back of a Sunday Times report last month which found that ‘Muslim pupils outnumber Christian children in more than 30 church schools’, with the report saying that ‘The Church of England estimated that about 20 of its schools had more Muslim pupils than Christians and 15 Roman Catholic schools had majority Muslim pupils, according to the Catholic Education Service.’.

The Church of England in particular was quick to herald these numbers as a telling demonstration of just how ‘wide open to the communities they serve’ their schools are. Indeed, in comments that received widespread media coverage across the national press, the CofE’s education chief Nigel Genders noted that whilst ‘some still seem surprised when they hear of Church of England schools serving people of other faiths’, many parents tell him that they choose church schools precisely because ‘they know they will get a much more diverse sense of community rather than being separated out’.

Unfortunately for both the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service, the BHA then did some research which revealed that only a quarter of CofE and Catholic schools situated in areas where most young people identify as ‘Muslim’ actually take most of their pupils from Muslim backgrounds. Not so ‘wide open to the communities they serve’ after all.

Bizarrely, the CofE’s response to this was not to debunk the BHA’s statistics, which in fact are simply drawn from official Census data and remain unchallenged. Rather, the CofE has sought to distance itself from its own figures. Quoted in Schools Week, Mr Genders accused the BHA of:

‘attempting to contrast a purely anecdotal figure calculated by a Sunday newspaper with entirely separate census statistics.’

Now, even if we forget for a moment that the CofE was perfectly happy with the supposedly ‘anecdotal figure’ when it was using it to launch into a very public exercise in patting itself on the back, for it to say that the figure was ‘calculated by a Sunday newspaper’ is misleading in the extreme. It may have been published by a Sunday newspaper, presumably at the Church’s urging, but calculated? No. Let’s have a look again at exactly what was reported:

‘The Church of England estimated that about 20 of its schools had more Muslim pupils than Christians’

Note: ‘The Church of England estimated’. An anecdotal figure it may be, but if it is, then it is the Church’s own anecdotal figure. And discrediting a Sunday newspaper for publishing it is some way to thank them for a writing a puff piece in the first place.

At any rate, very little was made in the Schools Week piece of the Catholic figures. We found that 73 Catholic schools are situated in areas where most young people identify as ‘Muslim’, while just 15 were reported by the Sunday Times to actually take most of their pupils from Muslim backgrounds. Even if the Church of England’s figure is in fact an inaccurate ‘anecdote’ that they should never have told the press was an ‘estimate’ of which it was proud, the Catholic figure is undoubtedly accurate. Because unlike the CofE, the Catholic Education Service surveys all the pupils in its schools to find out their religious backgrounds. So it is definitely the case that Catholic schools are woefully exclusive.

Incidentally, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was also quoted in Schools Week leaping to the defence of the Church of England’s schools – another bizarre response given how exclusive they are of the people the MCB is supposed to represent. It is a sad state of affairs when a humanist organisation will stand up for the rights of Muslims to access a wide variety of schools, but a group purporting to be the national Muslim body won’t do likewise.

In any case, the lesson here should be clear: if you don’t want your falsehoods (if, indeed, they are falsehoods) undermined by the facts, don’t publish falsehoods in the first place. Unfortunately, given all that we know about the proponents of religious discrimination and segregation in our education system, we can’t imagine it’s a lesson they’ll learn.

FSA staff

Trying to teach sex and relationships education in a faith school

“The Bishop actually made it his mission to eradicate anything within the curriculum about homophobia, sexuality, basically anything which challenges Catholicism”

The Government's SRE guidance hasn't been updated since the year 2000
The Government’s SRE guidance hasn’t been updated since the year 2000, and largely excludes LGBT issues

Whenever the issue of faith school is in the news, I always want to express my concerns and share my experiences, but I can’t publicly because I work in a faith school and will probably end up jobless. Anonymously, though, I can give you some examples of the hypocrisy going on in my school and others like it. It makes me so sad that our children are losing out on so many opportunities because of the one-track, narrow-minded way of a faith-based education.

I am the co-ordinator for PSHE (personal, social, health, and economic education) at our school and am all about promoting equality and self-acceptance, but working in my faith school just does not allow it and I feel I am fighting a losing battle.

It’s so sad. I teach Year 6, the eldest children. A lot of our kids are ‘streetwise’ and are older than their years, but it scares me how uneducated and prejudiced some of them are so I am working really hard to get them to see things differently (Classic examples: issues with black and Asian people and using racist language, using the word ‘gay’ as a derogatory phrase on the yard etc).

I went on a course about teaching LGBT and raising awareness, and it was such a good course with so many ideas for all children of all ages. Some of the resources for children as young as four are fantastic and deliver in an age-appropriate, non-sensationalised way.

But before I could even roll anything out the diocese had been on the phone asking what the school was playing at sending me on that course and the Bishop actually made it his mission to eradicate anything within the curriculum about homophobia, sexuality, basically anything which challenges Catholicism.

He sent out a memo to hold off on teaching about any of these areas, despite Ofsted saying they are of importance. So that’s all the children in all the schools in the diocese missing out on learning about these values.

I rebelled slightly and went ahead and taught some elements anyway, and I am so glad I did because my children were amazing and felt so strongly about inequality once we got into it and seemed to deal with scenarios and hypothetical questions in a mature manner.

sexeducationforum

But I couldn’t let the children write or record anything in their books, nor display anything like photos etc, because ‘the diocese wouldn’t like it’. We’re not allowed to teach RSE (Relationships and Sex Education), which again is a national requirement and so necessary for our kids, many of whom, I will be honest, really need to be taught about relationships and responsible choices.

Religious Education (RE), which is a Catholic syllabus only, is taught three times a week and is assessed with the same rigour as English and Maths. Again, for the past two years I have promoted other festivals like Diwali, Hanukkah and Eid, among others, and the children love it. They are naturally curious and have an inquisitive nature. But we have to evidence any work about other religions in other books, not RE books, to appease the diocese once again.

I think faith schools can be a good thing but the more I see this happening the more dangerous I think they can be too. Sometimes I feel like we fail the children by not addressing ‘real life’ situations and instead gloss over it all with scripture, or sweep it under the carpet completely.

That is all. Thank you for the opportunity to get this out! It just really gets to me and I can’t express myself openly without fear of repercussions in school!

Anonymous