Choosing a non-church school is often not enough to avoid religious proselytising

“It’s as if the school thinks it is perfectly acceptable for them to hand out Christian propaganda to my impressionable young child.”

My sons attend a non-religious, council-funded school.

I have been consistently surprised by the RE teaching in the school and the bias given to Christianity.  There have been numerous trips to places of worship, but all of these have been Christian.  To my knowledge, my oldest son, in year 2, has learned about Diwali and Eid el Fitr.  I’m quite sure these are always prefaced with “Hindus believe…” or “Muslims believe…”  I’m not sure it is always taught the same way with the Christian stories.

My youngest son comes home and tells me the stories in a way that makes me think he gives them the same credence as the other fact or evidence based lessons.  He has come home and said he wanted to die so he could go to heaven and be with his granddad, who passed away in 2012. He has never been taught about heaven at home. As a humanist I have talked about death as a natural part of life only. Although we have fantasised about fusing our consciousnesses with computers and living forever!

There are subtle ways in which the Christian point of view is enforced by the head teacher. For example she has stood up after the obligatory nativity show at the end of the year and said it heartens her to see the nativity story and remember the real meaning and message of Christmas.

My oldest son attended the local Baptist church for his nativity story with songs. During this production a video was displayed showing an updated version of the nativity story showing children dressed as wise men travelling on scooters and posting the birth of Jesus on social media. King Herod read about it on his tablet and was very angry.  Afterwards the preacher talked about the story as if it were fact and encouraged children to come to the special Christmas Day service where they show off their toys and fly drones around the room. A few of the children later tried to influence their parents to attend as the preacher was an incredibly charismatic speaker and they really wanted to join in the fun.

Each class does assemblies in rotation. At the end of each of these the children are asked to bow their heads and pray. I have said to both my children that this is not compulsory and that sitting quietly and respectfully is perfectly acceptable. If they wish to bow their heads in quiet contemplation it is up to them. Indeed if they wish to pray it is up to them as well. My youngest became very concerned and felt he would be in trouble and sent to the head teacher if he didn’t comply. Clearly it has not been promoted as optional.

I challenged his teacher about the booklet yesterday who defended their decision to invite a church in to talk about Easter as it is part of the story of Easter and we live in a majority Christian country.  It’s as if the school thinks it is perfectly acceptable for them to hand out Christian propaganda to my impressionable young child.

I have spoken to other mums about this and they agree with my point of view and observations.  One of their children was quite upset by the idea that a man could come back to life after being killed so brutally. Clearly it wasn’t taught to him as if it is the belief of Christians and a story.


Unequal and homophobic treatment at my old church school

‘The school simply would not have responded in this way had pupils of the opposite sex been involved.’

As the elder brother of a confused and upset pupil also educated at a moderate Church of England independent school in England, I feel compelled to address an incident occurring recently that made me question the core principles of the school.

The incident involved two fourteen year old boys reportedly found by an older pupil during a ‘moment of intimacy’ in their boarding house. One of the boys (a good friend of my brother) made the rare move a year prior to ‘come out’ at their previous school. This to my knowledge had never been done at the junior school, and I can count on one hand the number of pupils in my five years at the senior school who were openly gay.

Given that I had the pleasure of sharing my schooling with more than a thousand pupils during my time, and that gay rights charity Stonewall estimates that between 5-7% of the population is gay, this gives you some indication of how difficult an environment this is for LGBT people.

The incident was reported to the house master of the two boys in question, who faced a decision. If you consider that the housemaster was also privy to the knowledge that the other boy was suffering a difficult period at home and had not come out as gay (indeed he may well not be) the decision he made becomes all the more astounding.

The boys were suspended for four days, an announcement which was made to the rest of the boarding house in which they reside, and which obviously then made its way round the school. The two children had effectively been publicly shamed for an act of intimacy and curiosity, something that I and everyone else knows, staff included, had occurred on countless occasions between pupils of the opposite sex, and had gone unpunished. To be clear, the school simply would not have responded in this way had pupils of the opposite sex been involved.

This level of prejudice from a school known to foster a culture of homophobia  may not come as a complete shock to current or former pupils. However in the context of a 21st century society, it provides a further shameful footnote to the history of private schools blighted by the days of fagging, and much worse besides.

I wish for this piece to remain anonymous to protect the identities of the boys, however I hope that one day the school will be held to task for the discrimination it has actively delivered and the lasting harm it may well have caused.


My experience at the only Christian Science school in the UK

There are only 12 Christian Science schools in the world

I went to a small independent school nestled in the heart of Surrey. It was, as small independent schools go, fairly normal but for one thing: it is the only school in the UK run by Christian Scientists.

Most of the time it was all quite innocuous, of course. The teachers and pupils were all pleasant and fairly normal. The most explicit references to faith tended to be fairly untoward affairs, like assemblies that propounded virtue and annual trips to the local Christian Science church. That made the times its influence was obvious all the more memorable.

First, there were the guidelines for Charity Week, in which students could pick three charities to support. Any charity was eligible at all, any at all, except those that funded medical research.

Second was its effect when, like humpty dumpty, I had a great fall. Emerging rather bloodied from it, I was rushed to first aid, where I got all of a clean cloth, water, and a copy of the Christian Science Monitor.

This is because Christian Science is a sect founded by Mary Baker Eddy which believes a number of interesting things, the most relevant of which is their own form of Manicheanism, in which the spiritual world is the truly real one and our ailments in the physical one are all indicative of spiritual ills. As such, curing our ailments requires only that we resolve our spiritual issues, all else being a distraction. They are very serious about this: their first church, located in Boston, maintains a list of every case their form of faith healing has worked, although it’s rather short on cases where it failed.

It was all rare enough, and Christian Science is small enough, to be unthreatening and even occasionally quaint, but their aversion to medicine is troubling. Luckily, very few pupils took it seriously.