Atheist kid in a Catholic School - WWYD

(44 Posts)
Brokenbiscuit Tue 01-Mar-16 04:23:53

Can't sleep - need advice please!

There are four secondaries in our town. We're in the catchment for two of them.

One of the catchment schools is in special measures. I was worried about this but decided that We should not worry too much about the ofsted and make our own judgement after seeing the school. I hated it when we looked around, they gave us the really hard sell and wouldn't let us talk freely to any of the staff. It all felt very controlled/stage managed. DD also didn't like the feel of the school.

We loved the other catchment school, which is also nearer to our home. It had a fantastic atmosphere and felt really nurturing. About half of dd's friends will be going there, and she has set her heart on it. We're in catchment, our neighbour's kids go there and dd went to a feeder primary school. I assumed that she would get in.

We put the nice catchment school as our first choice. Second choice was the local Catholic secondary. Academically, it's probably the best school in town, and dd is bright, so it would suit her in that way, but we're not Catholic. I'm agnostic and so is DH but I think dd would describe herself as an atheist. We put the school down because it seemed to be the second best choice on offer but it didn't really occur to me that dd would get in because we aren't religious and I'd heard all sorts of stories about people going to church for years to get in.hmm

I didn't think she would get in, but put it down anyway because anything was better than the other catchment school which we really didn't like. Same with our third choice which was an oversubscribed school that is quite far from our house. Tbh, I really thought she would get into our first choice, but I figured that anything was better than the awful school. I do still feel this.

Anyway, now we have the result and she didn't get into the nice catchment school after all. To my astonishment, she did get into the catholic school. She didn't get into our third choice.

So now I'm panicking. DD will be really disappointed and she hates the idea of going to a religious school. Does anyone have experience of being a non-Catholic at a catholic school? We were completely honest in our application so she wouldn't have to pretend that she believed but they do say that parents should support the school's Christian ethos. I don't really have a problem with this but I am worried that dd might!

If we decline this school, I suspect that there will be spaces at the catchment school that we hated, as I haven't met a single person who wanted to go there. Academically, it isn't on a par with the Catholic option but I don't want to force dd into religious observance that she isn't comfortable with. She has quite strong views on this, despite only being 10!

Will check out where we are on the waiting list for our first choice school in any case, but don't hold out much hope. I don't think that we really have good grounds for appeal either - I'm guessing that our first choice is just heavily over subscribed this year.sad

Oh FWIW, I don't think much of our local private options either. We had a look but I wasn't wildly impressed so dd didn't sit the exam. So we've missed the boat on that as well.

Feel like I've stuffed everything up for her, and now stuck between a rock and a hard place.

WWYD? Go for the "good" Catholic school even though it doesn't seem a great fit for dd? Do I have any other option?

mathanxiety Tue 01-Mar-16 05:05:17

I would go for it.

DD4's best friend is in the same sort of position you are in. A difference is that her family is devoutly Baptist and the school is RC. There is a huge difference between the two as far as beliefs go. Nevertheless, DD's friend is loving the school. It is a very academically focused school, but you can't be that focused without being very supportive of each individual student and without making a major effort to forge a very positive and inclusive atmosphere. The alternative school for her would be one with metal detectors and armed police in the lobby. DD's friend is also part of a racial minority.

My Dsis is not RC, or Christian of any stripe actually, and her DD is at a RC school and will progress through it to 18. It is their only option and it happens to be an excellent school -- other local schools are worse than dire.

An atheist isn't necessarily against religion. Just a non-believer in the details or the need for organised religion. Not everyone she encounters in a RC secondary school is going to be a believer. Not everyone she encounters who currently believes all the RC church teaches will stay that way. Religious experience or belief or lack thereof is quite often part of a lifetime journey that can take you in all sorts of directions. As a way of preparing her for transition into the school (assuming you decide to go ahead /other options don't become available) I would perhaps start asking her to refine her own atheism and suggest it isn't 'against' religion, just an absence of belief in any deity (not just the Judeo-Christian God).

You could check their policy about religious observance -- will she be expected to go to Mass, pray at the start of the school day, etc. You could also ask if there are many non-RC students, whether non-RC students have ever complained about not feeling welcome, if a non-RC student can opt out of Mass or public prayer. Ask about other elements such as pastoral care, opportunities for extra curricular activities, clubs, opportunities for participation in charitable volunteer work.

Brokenbiscuit Tue 01-Mar-16 05:26:20

Thank you for your helpful and encouraging response math. It's good to hear about others who have had positive experiences.

I should clarify that dd is not at all against religion - several of her close friends come from quite religious families and she has always been respectful of their beliefs. What she is very much against is anyone trying to push their views onto her (as a couple of her friends did when they were younger).

Part of my fear is that my mother www brought up catholic and went to a RC school, and there was very little room for diverse beliefs, but I appreciate that that was a long time ago, and I guess that schools have moved on.

I will try to find out if she could opt out of mass, prayer etc.

Illiria Tue 01-Mar-16 05:33:53

I went to a catholic school and am atheist. Actually I did infant, junior, senior and sixth form catholic school. Went to the infant as mom was child minding some kids who went there so it was I went or she couldn't look after those kids. My infant and junior were the same school which was a feeder for the secondary and sixth form.

I didn't mind the religious side as I liked to sing in the choir, I like to sing religious music even though I don't believe a jot of it. During infant and junior I did go along with it more, as I wanted to fit in, but the school didn't pressure me - I wanted to be doing what my friends were. But in secondary I felt more sure of myself to not have to fit in with it so I didn't participate actively, just sat quiet respectfully while prayers were said which wasn't that often. We did get a new headmaster who was more religious in my GCSE year but it was made clear that he couldn't force anyone to actively participate. He was personally a bit of a knob anyway so no one really liked him.

RE was actually really good in that we got to learn about a lot of different mainstream religions, something my brother who went to a different non religious school didn't. At the time my school was a lot better than his, this has caused some resentment even now 15 years after finishing sixth form.

We had quite a few kids who weren't Catholic - atheists, Anglicans and Sikhs mostly.

mathanxiety Tue 01-Mar-16 05:36:04

I think that is a common anxiety when faced with Catholic schools. However, it's a diverse society and unless they can afford to be very insulated, I fancy RC schools appreciate that many of their students come from varied religious backgrounds and non religious backgrounds too. A friend of mine who attended an all girls RC school had many Muslim classmates, and that was at least 30 years ago.

On top of contacting the school to see how they accommodate students who may not be RC, ask if it's possible for your DD to 'shadow' a student for a day or a half day, just to give her an idea of how things go. If there are any events at the school like concerts, plays, etc., maybe go and see what you think. A lot of schools post upcoming events on their websites. You could also go to any open house type events they hold.

mathanxiety Tue 01-Mar-16 05:38:51

I should disclose that I am RC. However, my DCs go to a completely secular school. My Dsis would die for it smile.

Duckdeamon Tue 01-Mar-16 05:39:20

the good catholic school sounds a good choice in your circumstances and now should take the place IMO, and as PP says check their policies on things like services, prayers, although many DC would not wish to stand out by not attending those.

You could also go on the waiting list for the first choice and try to find out if there's a realistic chance of a place there by September.

Brokenbiscuit Tue 01-Mar-16 05:51:37

Thank you, some really good advice here. DD does enjoy singing and doesn't mind singing religious music in choir at all - they do this quite a lot even at her current school, which isn't a faith school.

I'll investigate whether there is anything going on that we could go and check out. She does have a friend through one of her extra curricular activities who is already at the RC school. Friend is RC so couldn't comment on the experience of being a non-Catholic, but might be able to give her more of a flavour of what the school is like.

Part of the problem is that none of her friends will be going to the RC school. She is very sociable and makes friends easily, but she was really looking forward to them moving up together, walking to school together etc. I'm sad that she probably won't have that now, although rationally I know she'll make new friends.

I haven't slept all night because I'm dreading telling her. DH and I think that the RC school is a good school but she really didn't want to go there. She is going to be so upset. I just don't want this disappointment to spoil the rest of her time at primary - I want her to be happy and excited about moving on.

Kr1stina Tue 01-Mar-16 05:52:44

I know lots of children who are not RC but go to RC schools. I think it's harder for those who DO have religious beliefs ( but are not RC) , as the school act as if they have none or theirs are not valid . It might be easier for your DD as an atheist .

In our area, there are quite a few Asian kids who go to Rc schools as they are the only religious schools that get state funding . All other schools are non denominational .

It's harder for the non RC kids in primary , because there is a lot of focus on preparing for making their first holy communion , but it's usually not such a big part of school life in secondary . Obviously it varies from school to school.

You need to remember that many of the staff, children and families are more culturally Catholic than actually believing and practising their faith . It's more just a way their were brought up IYSWIM. Like in any religion, there are those who are devout and those who don't really believe but go along for the ride and everything in between .

So it's not like there will be 1500 Catholics kids and 100 non. It may look like that on paper ( for the arch diocese ! ) but there will be a spectrum of belief IYSWIM.

toastyarmadillo Tue 01-Mar-16 05:58:17

I suspect your and your daughter are worrying unnecessarily, I went to a rc school as did dd1, when I was at school we had very brief prayers at the start and end of each day, and school mass on religiously significant occasions. My RE classes were much more varied and covered a larger variety of different religions compared to my cousin who attended a non religious comprehensive. We had a few students who were not rc, and they joined in with everyone else, they just didn't take communion.
If the school is really that good academically, it's worth attending just for that. School is proportionally a small part of your daughters life, however the achievements she earns will be important for the rest of her life.
I would see where she is on the waiting list for school number 1, then I would choose the best school, bollocks to where friends are going or anything else, if she doesn't wish to participate she won't have to, life is about compromise, that's not a bad thing for her to learn.

sashh Tue 01-Mar-16 06:04:03

I think it very much depends on the school, mine was very very RC in that things like history had an RC bias but I know now some are much more open.

Why not go for a look round with dd and ask all your questions.

notinminutenow Tue 01-Mar-16 06:12:00

Nothing to add except don't base the decision on friendships. They change and often once the children no longer have primary school in common, they realise they have nothing in common and quickly form other connections.

Good luck. Fwiw I'd accept the place, big up the benefits to your daughter and stay on the waiting list. That's what we did when we were offered our 3rd preference two years ago - got offered a waiting list place for 1st pref some months later.

nagsandovalballs Tue 01-Mar-16 06:16:49

My otherhalf entered catholic school a catholic and came out a hardcore atheist so I wouldn't worry about it. Your dd sounds switched on - tell her it is this school or the horrible school. Catholic schools aren't able to evangelise any more. She can also move for 6th form.

Brokenbiscuit Tue 01-Mar-16 06:18:47

Thanks all, you're making me feel much better after a very long night.

I'm not really worried about the friends thing. I went to a different secondary from most of my classmates and it was fine. She can maintain the friendships outside school if she chooses to in any case. I'm just concerned that she'll feel left out when others are talking about our first choice and she didn't have that option.

Still, life doesn't always go to plan, and as someone has pointed out, it's no bad thing for her to learn to deal with life's little disappointments. She is lucky to have been offered a good school, so it could be a lot worse.

Wriggle45 Tue 01-Mar-16 06:34:20

You can be disappointed along with her that she didn't get into the catchment school.... And explain to her you will put her on the waitlist.... And yet point out the good points of the one she has got.
If you haven't got in to the one you expected to you/dd may be surprised by who else goes where this year so don't give up hope of no friends!! It sounds like a good school.... sure you can quietly sell it to your DD

HPFA Tue 01-Mar-16 08:50:53

I am RC and it is perfectly OK for anyone to go to Mass although you shouldn't take Communion- your DD will not be quizzed about her beliefs. I'm not sure if God exists but I like Mass time as a period of quiet reflection, I am sure many people around me are the same. It is highly unlikely that more than a small percentage of those at the school will be very devout Catholics and very likely that many will not be Catholic at all.
I assume your DD will go on the waiting list for her first choice school - as you are actually in catchment you should have a reasonable chance once people have accepted places at private school.
A school can make rapid progress after special measures but its quite a risk , especially as you didn't like the school anyway.

KittyandTeal Tue 01-Mar-16 08:57:13

Tbh she won't be the only one, especially if you didn't have to jump through hoops like getting a priests signature etc to get in.

I know families who are by no stretch religious but spend the whole of their child's year 5 going to church just to get in to catholic school.

She will have to suck up the mass etc though

bkgirl Tue 01-Mar-16 12:30:26

Wise up!!!! Seriously as the worst catholic on the planet I was sent to one, I just saw the surreal side of it. I had many atheist, catholic, jewish and muslim friends too. Other religions were allowed to sit out of the very few times there was a specific catholic religious thing but really that was few and far between. So please - stop worrying and well done your daughter for getting into a great school. Stop being worried, I promise you it will be fine. Don't let your child see your fears, you will wind her up needlessly. Well done you too for being a caring and considerate mum but no more worrying. Come back and tell us she adores it by the end of September. smile Guaranteed.

crazygring Tue 01-Mar-16 13:39:44

I think you will be fine at the Catholic school where your daughter has been offered a place.
Some Catholic schools will only take pupils from practising Catholic families, but as it is not the case here, there will probably be quite a few non-Catholics at this school.

Paddington68 Tue 01-Mar-16 14:07:27

If she isn't Catholic her fellow Catholics would expect her not to take communion, but I imagine she wouldn't want to. If the schools allows children in who are not of the faith then she will merely have to be respectful and appreciative of others who do follow that faith.
All sounds good to me.

BigDorrit Tue 01-Mar-16 14:22:24

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Brokenbiscuit Tue 01-Mar-16 15:46:05

Thank you so much to all who offered their support earlier today. I felt much more positive about the school after reading all of the comments, and was able to persuade a devastated dd this morning that it might not be so bad.

Happily, as things have turned out, we have since been offered a place at our first choice school. I was holding out hope for this but never expected it so quickly.

What all this has made me realise though is that dd would probably have been fine wherever she ended up. She was absolutely gutted this morning but coped really well with the disappointment. I was actually really proud of her.

Yasmin1592 Tue 01-Mar-16 15:54:44

My son has special needs and the only school that had a suitable unit was a catholic school, we are religious but not catholic at all.
I had a word with the head teacher and said if like my son not to participate in religious education and also the prayers / bible reading assembly's. They were absolutely fine with that. He gets on with homework while other do RE. It's no problem at all. RE and religious things are not compulsory.

TalkinPeace Tue 01-Mar-16 18:23:57

Our local catholic girls school is chock full of Pagans, Sikhs (who demand the right to wear their turbans), Muslims, atheists and I think there are a few Catholics there.

Cetti Tue 01-Mar-16 19:21:46

I'm glad that this has all worked out OK but in any case I'm sure the OP's dd would have been fine in the Catholic school. She's certainly more likely to have come out with a good background in other religions than in the average school.

BigDorrit, Catholics aren't Creationists, so that wouldn't be a worry. In fact they tend to be very keen on science, especially physics. The originator of the Big Bang theory was a priest, after all. I have a whole bunch of physicist friends who are very devout.

www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2014/10/31/pope-franciss-comments-on-the-big-bang-are-not-revolutionary-catholic-teaching-has-long-professed-the-likelihood-of-human-evolution/

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