Paying or Praying – Do parents really need to go to such lengths to get a good education?

At a time when parents and carers are finding out which school their child has been allocated, recent press articles suggest that aspirational parents such as Andy Hamilton, to whom the quotation above is attributed, feel that the search for a quality education begins and ends at a faith education or the private sector. Clearly this devalues the superb education provided by so many comprehensive schools throughout the country, but also highlights the reputation for excellence that exists in the Church of England and Catholic school systems.

There are over 7,000 faith schools inEngland, with 68% Church of England and 30% Catholic, and admissions policy in many such schools favour those with a clear and demonstrable faith. Whilst some find this to be a ‘kind of religious prejudice’ to quote Mr Hamilton again, it can surely come as no surprise to others that some indication of supporting the ethos of a faith school should be part of the selection procedure. If you were not in favour of that type of education then why apply at all?

Perhaps the view is that faith schools produce great outcomes for children, and if a few ‘hoops’ have to leapt through to gain entry then any sacrifice of principle is worth it. But parents should be aware that faith schools do provide a distinctive Christian style of education, where important values are promulgated alongside the acquisition of skills and knowledge. Having worked in schools of ‘faith’ and ‘non-faith,’ the difference in ethos is very evident in a good church school, and parents should be supportive of that uniqueness in their application.

However, it should be remembered that all of the above only applies to oversubscribed faith schools. There are many other faith schools that are not over-subscribed, and in that situation their intake is simply all who apply, and therefore the selection policy is effectively null and void. Faith schools state in their documentation that they welcome applications from those of ‘faith’ and ‘non-faith’, and indeed the Church of England sees schools as part of its mission to reach the latter.

With this in mind the notion of ‘Pay or Pray’ becomes redundant if your local faith school is in an area where demographic patterns lead to a surplus of places, a situation that many schools find themselves in, my own included at this present time. For over-subscribed schools the question of how schools best choose from an ever-growing list of applicants may be a bone of contention to some – but surely it cannot be a revelation that schools will seek to select families who provide some evidence that they are truly in support of a faith education.

The oft-stated view that the desire of ‘middle-class’ parents to do whatever it takes to place their child in a successful faith school inevitably distorts the intake towards a more affluent parent body, is denied by data from the DfE which show that 18.6 per cent of children at Catholic primary schools live in the most deprived 10 per cent of areas of England, compared with only 14.3 per cent of primary pupils nationally.

In conclusion, parents do not have to ‘pay’ or be ‘well paid’ themselves to access a faith education, and many of the poorest families do benefit from such, but I believe that where a school is oversubscribed then the need to ‘pray’ is entirely appropriate as a means of demonstrating a commitment to the values a faith school upholds.

Please submit your comments below.

Dr Simon Hulme

Dr Simon Hulme is Headteacher at St Michael’s Church of England High School in Crosby, Liverpool. He was born in Gloucestershire and studied at Liverpool University.

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