How much of one faith in a non-faith school is okay?

(70 Posts)
thehorseandhisboy Sat 14-Dec-19 12:12:32

I don't want to start a discussion about religion, but I just want to gauge whether my gut feelings are shared by others.

My children have all attended the same primary school, youngest now in Y6, so I know we haven't got long left and not trying to crate problems.

The school is a very typical, multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-ethnic non-denominational school in London. Children from lots of different backgrounds, about 1/3 of the school Muslim. Fab - love this about the school.

Previously, the school has recognised and celebrated Eid, Divali, Chinese New Year, Hannuka and civic events like Black History Month etc. Christmas and Easter have been acknowledged in quite low key ways eg end of year performance singing mainly secular Christmas songs, a few carols, chocolate nests at Easter. Fab - no problem.

A new head started earlier this year who is a practicing Christian. My children have had Christian, Muslim, Hindu and aetheist teachers who have been open about their faith/beliefs and interested in and tolerant of others. Fab - living alongside people of faith and being able to ask questions/reflect a huge privilege imvho.

Since the new head started, there has been no acknowledgement of important days for faiths other than Christians, and important events in the civic calendar like Black History month have been ignored. A priest from the local denominational church now leads a Christian assembly once a week. There is much talk about God and Jesus as facts. Representatives from the local church have been invited to events like the Winter Fair (renamed the Christmas fair, of course) to ask for 'contributions'.

The end of term has been something else. Five separate nativities and a Christingle Service (in school) as end of year events. The newsletter has been full of 'Christmas is coming' since November although Divali hadn't even had a mention.

I could go on, but you get the drift...

Some parents spoke and then wrote to the head to express their discomfort with the dominance that Christianity is now taking in the school, and the head's response was to cite the Education Act and suggest that they remove their child from these events.

For a school that has always taken a stance of including all children, this doesn't sit well with me. If you don't want your child to be involved in a nativity or Christingle, they might as well not be at school for the last two weeks of the autumn term, as there have been endless rehearsals etc. Some children are removed from these events, so excluded from end of year shows and events that they used to take part in.

My stance isn't anti-Christian at all; I would feel the same about any faith being imposed so suddenly and extensively and also if an atheist head started and failed to acknowledge faith at all and focused on the solstice etc.

Is this within 'normal range' for a non-denominational school in a very mixed community?

Views please. TIA.

OP’s posts: |
Vinorosso74 Sat 14-Dec-19 13:57:34

That doesn't sound right to me either. My DD is at a similar inner London school and it is more like how yours was with the previous head. I know the government say assembly should be a broadly Christian thing but as an atheist it sits uncomfortably with me. However, when I have been to assemblies the head asks the children to close their eyes to reflect/think/pray and says a few non religious words. I felt better that no religion was being used.
I think it is good to learn that people may have different faiths or none but in my view schools should be secular.

thehorseandhisboy Sat 14-Dec-19 14:37:03

The Education Act 1996 and 1994 guidance says that the collective workship in non-faith schools should be wholly or mainly of a Christian nature, or something along those lines.

(Thanks Blair for bringing your faith agenda into all schools - that's going well.)

The school used to implement this in a very broad way - lots about values of kindness etc and no mention of God/Jesus.

It has been inspected umpteen times by Ofsted and this was never identified as an area for concern - it was previously meeting its duties under the Education Act.

It's not the Christianity per se that's not sitting well with me, it's the head so ruthlessly bringing her own faith practices into her place of work and marginalising or ignoring other faiths and atheists.

But I don't know whether this is within normal range in a non-faith school.

OP’s posts: |
JoJoSM2 Sat 14-Dec-19 15:17:48

I’ve worked in tons of schools and that’s not normal. Non-faith, multicultural schools in London are what yours was before the new head.

thehorseandhisboy Sat 14-Dec-19 15:41:03

Thanks, that's my instinct.

The head cheerfully encouraging parents to withdrawn their child from school events where they were previously included didn't sit well with me.

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NeedAnExpert Sat 14-Dec-19 15:44:39

There was specific guidance issued in England IIRC that loosened the requirements for daily workshop to be broadly Christian. It was a circular from the DoE.

jinglebells101 Sat 14-Dec-19 16:01:52

My DCs are at a CofE primary in London with strong links to the church and priority for church goers. There are a few Muslim, Jewish and Hindu pupils but mainly Christians. They have the usual Christian assemblies and Christmas/Easter celebrations but they also learn about other religions and celebrations and visit mosques/ temples etc.
Certainly did a lot about Black History month earlier in the year.
They are taught about tolerance, compassion and respect for all religions and those who are
not religious above anything else, really both at school and if they have things on at the church.
I wouldn't be happy if our head was behaving like yours at our school let alone a school that has no strong faith ethos.

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cabbageking Sat 14-Dec-19 16:31:33

A daily act of worship broadly Christian is the law. This can be in the classroom. But you still experience and celebrate all the other faith days to give a broad overview of religion, culture and understanding diversity.

Your school would not appear to sit within the norm in my view. But it is the Governors who set the tone/type of Head they want to lead the school. Do they question the new direction?

thehorseandhisboy Sat 14-Dec-19 17:38:01

No, it's the head. I wrote to the Chair of Governors about it this week, and it was news to him.

He said that he will address it with the Head, but in reality the day to day operational running of the school isn't their remit.

She has a pretty forceful, 'my way or the highway' approach to things in general, and she clearly thinks that she's perfectly within her rights to enforce her own faith beliefs in this way, and cheerfully encourage people that don't like it to ask to remove their child from what, this December, has been much of the school day.

As well as the bigger picture, it's the little things that my child has said that make me feel very uncomfortable. They were singing 'Christ the Lord' in a carol and she said that they must sing 'Christ our Lord' which to me is very different.

OP’s posts: |
cabbageking Sat 14-Dec-19 18:40:40

The direction of the school is the Governors responsibility. The vision comes from the Governors downwards with input from others. She will meet regularly with the Chair and as you say the newsletter has lots of information for governors. They should all be informed?

ChaiNashta Sat 14-Dec-19 18:59:11

We've probably got a similar ethnic make-up at DC's outer London school and all the children took part in nativity plays but it was somewhat a bit of a modern take on it (included aliens 🤷‍♀️). Other religious festivals are briefly discussed. Diwali was on the weekend this year, the first Eid of 2020 is on a weekend, the next Eid that year is in the summer holidays and of course Hannukah is in the term holidays. Maybe this might have something to do with it as it's not obvious at school that these festivals are taking place?

I have to say though, it does sound like the school I attended in the 1980's. We just used to mouth the words to the hymns/carols.

thehorseandhisboy Sat 14-Dec-19 18:59:59

The Governing Body is very removed from the day-to-day running of the school. The Chair of Governors changed in September, and I only found out this week when my letter was redirected to someone else, who kindly wrote to introduce himself.

I did send him a link to the school website with its Twitter feed and newsletters which have been wall to wall Christianity for the past few weeks.

My worry - albeit only until July when my child leaves - is that she is acting within permitted parameters and I'm going to have to decide whether he receives regular info about Lent and Easter (she's already told the children that they're going to be 'celebrating Lent') or ask for him to be excluded from parts of the school community he's been in since he was 3 years old.

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AnduinsGirl Sat 14-Dec-19 19:09:24

I share your unease, OP. I'm Deputy Head of a large, inner city multi-faith school. We succeed by celebrating Eid and Christmas but also have total flexibility to accommodate our increasing number of JWs.
We do not promote any form of religious ethos, and simply have one rule - treat others as you would like to be treated. I would be really unhappy at a shift toward any religious preference; I often think it's hard enough for our religious pupils to hear so many conflicting messages!

NeedAnExpert Sat 14-Dec-19 19:13:58

We do not promote any form of religious ethos, and simply have one rule - treat others as you would like to be treated.

I disagree with this. It should be “treat others as they wish to be treated”.

AnduinsGirl Sat 14-Dec-19 19:46:45

I disagree with this. It should be “treat others as they wish to be treated”.
Interesting perspective but that wouldn't work for us. We are 97% EAL with a massive number of international new arrivals who don't speak English. They are not always able to convey how they wish to be treated.

NeedAnExpert Sat 14-Dec-19 19:54:36

It’s probably because I work for the NHS. smile

AnduinsGirl Sat 14-Dec-19 20:06:10

Ahhh - makes sense! smile

thehorseandhisboy Sat 14-Dec-19 21:00:15

ChaiNashta Eid Al-Fitr was in early June this year.

Yes, Divali was at the weekend, and Hannukah starts next week end but Christmas is, em, in the Christmas holidays!

The children are never at school for Christmas Day, but that doesn't mean that schools don't celebrate it.

Christmas has only been so obvious in the school this year because of the song and dance that the Head has made about it.

It's no different to Divali or Hannukah in that respect.

OP’s posts: |
BikeRunSki Sat 14-Dec-19 21:04:57

My children go to a CoE school in rural W Yorks, and they still recognise the feast days of other religions.

thehorseandhisboy Sat 14-Dec-19 21:17:48

Thanks all.

I'm hoping that the governors will reign her in a bit. Either not having the local priest come in every week, or having other religious leaders to lead some assemblies if she must would be good.

Also, returning to celebrating important days for other faiths and toning the Christian stuff down a bit.

OP’s posts: |
Vinorosso74 Sat 14-Dec-19 21:31:54

Fingers crossed they do or she moves to a CofE school. Imagine the uproar if it was a school pushing a different religion, the Daily Fail would have a field day.

thehorseandhisboy Sat 14-Dec-19 21:50:10

Lol. I suggested in my letter to the Chair of Governors that she would be better suited to a Church school if she couldn't keep her faith practice at home.

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Justajot Sat 14-Dec-19 22:51:42

I think it is relatively normal that the extent to which the school adheres to the daily act of broadly Christian worship depends on the beliefs of the headteacher. Obviously that shouldn't be the case from either the perspective of those who disagree with it and those that don't.

I doubt that a headteacher would be asked about it at interview, I'd sort of assume that a head teaching in a religiously diverse area would have the sense to reflect that in their practice. Happy to be told I'm wrong if heads are asked at interview.

I'm fairly certain that Ofsted don't look at it when they inspect.

What is taught in RE, assuming it is a school without a designated religious character, depends on whether the school is an academy or not. Academies can design their own RE syllabus. Maintained schools must follow their locally agreed syllabus.

Where we are that seems to mean doing a carousel of mainly Christianity, with one of two other religions touched on each year. So they study Diwali a couple of times in their whole primary education, but Easter and Christmas more. But that doesn't mean that Diwali couldn't feature in assembly each year.

From my own perspective, I'd like religious worship dropped from schools. That wouldn't mean not doing nativities (though every child in every year strikes me as too much). I think that leading religious worship for children from a range of backgrounds, all being told different things at home, actually undermines teachers. Why would you believe factual teaching from someone who is telling you religious beliefs as if they are fact?

I also think that assemblies are a good way to promote strong values and they are undermined by being pinned to one belief system.

The Humanists have some good material about whether to withdraw children from religious worship and a recent legal case has resulted in a school providing alternative assemblies of equivalent educational worth to children who have been withdrawn from collective worship here. Unfortunately the school acquiesced before the case got to court, so it doesn't mean that is binding on other schools.

I would have thought that withdrawing children en masse might change the direction that the head is taking.

thehorseandhisboy Sun 15-Dec-19 08:43:57

I would have thought that withdrawing children en masse might change the direction that the head is taking.

That's exactly what I want to avoid. A friend of mind grew up in N Ireland in the 1970/80s and that was her experience of school; a deeply divided community.

The school community has traditionally been inclusive and tolerant. Accentuating the divisions the head has created goes against this, and not an environment that the adults around should create for children imvho.

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CripsSandwiches Sun 15-Dec-19 09:00:59

YANBU no advice but I'd share your feelings of disappointment in going from such an inclusive school to one with such a forceful Christian message.

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