Sexist, limiting, manipulative: my education at a church-run private school

“I wish I’d been taught about contraceptive choices and consent. Instead, I was sent out into the world naïve, judgemental and feeling like an outsider who needed to go along with things so that I wasn’t discovered.”

Photo: Charlotte90T
Photo: Charlotte90T

I went to a church-run private school in a generic town from the age of eight all the way through to the end of my GCSEs. The school was the result of the idealistic thinking of enthusiastic non-denominational charismatic Christians in the 1980s. It started off with some unqualified volunteer teachers, a classroom converted from a World War II bunker and some sexist rules about women not being able to wear trousers. By the time I got there, the bunker was out of bounds but the rest was the same. Faith was intrinsic to the school day; we had hands-in-the-air worship in assemblies, prophesy practice in tutor times, and memorised bible verses alongside our spellings and times tables.

One emotion that stands out from my school days was a growing frustration at the lack of opportunities for females. My year group consisted of lots of smart girls with natural leadership abilities, and a few quiet and retiring boys. Every opportunity was catered towards the boys, regardless of who was the best candidate for the role. From running a mock election, to writing the school newspaper, going on an exchange trip, or learning STEM subjects – the boys were the priority. It was so subconscious that I’m sure the teachers weren’t aware of their bias. I was too young to understand that I was disrupting classes out of protest for being overlooked and under-challenged. I eventually bought a Science GCSE syllabus, and taught myself and some of the other girls after school. One girl retook a GCSE module she had previously failed and got a B. She wasn’t a low achiever like the teachers assumed, she had just never been taught.

There was no sex education, just an atmosphere of scorn and disapproval. We had just one lesson in Science about the biology side of things and were told in Sociology that we shouldn’t vote for the Liberal Democrats because they were pro-choice. There was one special afternoon in Year 9 where youth leaders from the church came in, the boys and girls were separated, and taught respectively not to masturbate or kiss anyone before marriage. The emphasis on female purity was really strong. I remember thinking at the time that I would rather be murdered than raped, because then at least I would still be a virgin. I wish I’d been taught about contraceptive choices and consent. Instead, I was sent out into the world naïve, judgemental and feeling like an outsider who needed to go along with things so that I wasn’t discovered. My school friendships became toxic as we hit puberty, and those who rejected Christianity were shamed for normal teenage behaviour by their peers, including me.

With teachers sourced from the church, there was quite a lot of spiritual manipulation. My report card from Year 4 stated that I should work on my sharp tongue. This comment destroyed me when I read it, and stayed with me for years as something that was fundamentally flawed about my personality. I struggled with guilt throughout my childhood for not feeling how every adult in my life was telling me I should feel. As I got older, I would fluctuate between wanting to fit in with other teenagers and an intense guilt for not being pure enough. I would drive this into trying really hard to be a good Christian, and then feel disappointed in myself for God still not seeming real. This led to bouts of depression until I gave up trying all together.

The place became more normal during the eight years I was there, and I heard it became more secular after I left. I wouldn’t say going to the school damaged me permanently. The small class sizes suited me on the whole and I got good enough GCSE results to carry me through to A Levels. More importantly it taught me how to adapt to survive. It taught me how to spot when someone is trying to manipulate me. It gave me a sense of optimism that everything will work out for me because a deity has got everything planned, even if I’m now missing the God. These skills allowed me to leave the school behind and transition quite smoothly to a large secular sixth form, then university, and a career after that, albeit with a few years of grappling with a conflicted identity.


TV channel seeks ex-pupils of unregistered Muslim schools for documentary

Did you go to a Muslim school? If so, what was it like? Do you feel you received a narrow, limited, or overly scripture-focused education? Were children at your school at risk of radicalisation? Do you want to stop this from happening to others?

A top TV channel is looking for former pupils of unregistered Muslim schools to come forward and anonymously share their experiences. If you went to a Muslim school and you think it might have been operating illegally, they want to hear from you.

Your identity would be completely protected, and they already have former pupils of such schools involved. So please do come forward. Highlighting these issues is the only way to stop other children from receiving this kind of education in the future.

If you can help, please call or email the Faith Schoolers Anonymous team on 020 7324 3078 or

Modern Orthodox Jewish schools out-of-step with liberal values of pupils and parents

“The education on offer can be quite alienating as pupils feel that the ideology promoted is at odds with their more liberal faith values”

2016_06_15_lw_v1_modern_orthodox_jewish_schoolAs a modern orthodox family we sent our daughter to a Jewish secondary state school where many (most) of the pupils come from modern orthodox families. It wasn’t our first choice of school but she didn’t get a place at the higher ranked schools. Whilst the secular education in the school is of a very high standard, the school’s ethos, fairly openly, promotes aspects of Ultra Orthodox ideology.

This is a school which has an outstanding Ofsted grade, however even in 2016 it teaches a different Jewish studies curriculum to boys and girls (who are taught in separate sites although legally it’s one school). This fact is openly advertised on the school’s website, and is because Ultra Orthodox Judaism believes that girls / women should not study the Oral Law (Talmud).

Other problematic themes surround the issue of girls and gender difference, and an obsession with “modesty”. Whereas both parents are allowed to watch boys perform at school shows, only female only audiences are permitted for girls’ school shows, even if these don’t entail singing at the girls’ school. Also there is an obsession with dress code and skirt length, the school has employed someone to enforce skirt length to ensure that skirts cover the girls’ knees at all times, and emails are regularly sent to parents reminding them to check the length of the girls’ skirts. Further, whilst boys can wear short sleeve t-shirts, girls must cover their elbows at all times. On a recent non-uniform day, my daughter was told that her dress which was to her knee was “disgusting”.

When the school teaches “holocho” or Jewish law, it teaches the Charedi / Ultra Orthodox interpretation rather than the (often more lenient) modern orthodox interpretation, even though most of the families in the school would self identify as modern orthodox. This is because the parent body has changed over time, but the ethos and Rabbinical leadership has not changed. It is time that parents should be able to alter the ethos of faith schools as the demographic need changes; ultra Orthodox families generally would no longer wish to attend this school as they have moved further to the right and have eschewed secular education.

The education on offer can be quite alienating as pupils feel that the ideology promoted is at odds with their more liberal faith values.