And so the contagion is spreading

Since reporting on the situation at the Sacred Heart High School in Hammersmith, I’ve received a number of troubling emails from parents around the country who are reporting similar situations in their schools.

I’m not going to name them, as yet, though one Catholic secondary in London has invited parents along to a consultation evening next week in which parents will be presented with the school’s ‘LGBTQIA’ policy.

Just the wording of that is a worry. It suggests that the school has bought into the full ‘alphabet soup’ surrounding sexual and gender identity; whereas most institutions stop at the LGBT, the full acronym is LGBTQIAPK. (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual and Kink).

The fact that a Catholic school has seen fit to validate “Queer, Intersex and Asexual” and accommodate them into the school’s ethos and policies is a depressing indication that they are likely to have bought into this highly politicised agenda, hook line and sinker.

Another parent informed me of how their children had come from the Catholic school they attend with a letter proudly bearing the Stonewall logo (Stonewall being a lobby group who are diametrically opposed to the Church’s teachings on sexuality and unlikely to be sympathetic) and who had attended a workshop on diversity at the school last term, which did not appear to conform with either the Catholic or traditional Christian teaching on sex and marriage, according to the feedback from their children.

This parent is typical of many non-Catholic parents who nonetheless choose to send their children to Catholic schools.  They describe themselves as a non-Anglican Christian.

“I am not Catholic but have really appreciated my kids attending a school that until recently had stood firm on Catholic principles. So sad that so many Catholic schools are gong the way of CofE schools!!”

Again, I am not going to name and shame the school yet, because it may be that both schools in question may be open to dialogue, but it’s symptomatic of the way things seem to be going in Catholic schools and how many parents are feeling let down, but are also too scared to say or do anything.

You can’t blame them. Their options are limited. Complaining to the school is likely to get both you and your children labelled as bigots and singled out for negative treatment. It’s not hard to imagine a situation whereby children are deemed in need of extra attention in order to overcome their parents’ bigotry. Parents who speak out about gender-neutral bathrooms or the imposition of transgender ideology onto their children are likely to reinforce the school’s position that they are the righteous ones, teaching the next generation to overcome he intolerance and prejudice of ill-informed bigots like their parents.

Parents haven’t been on the latest diversity course run by special interest groups like Stonewall or Mermaids, therefore they are not qualified and too ignorant to judge which values ought to be taught to their children. They must learn to overcome their ‘senseless fear’ to use the words of the prayer in the Scared Heart’s newsletter and ‘irrational prejudice’ about sharing their intimate facilities with a person of the opposite sex. They must suspend their critical faculties which question whether girls can turn into boys and vice-versa and reach out to these marginalised communities who are gender non-conforming, have been watching far too much YouTube and want a way to feel different and special. They must not feel uncomfortable but understand that God has in His infinite wisdom somehow made a mistake in His Creation and allocated people the wrong bodies, which they must change in order to be free. It’s what Jesus would do!

The reason why the newsletter from Sacred Heart is quite so disturbing is that it effectively emotionally blackmails both parents and children into silence. It starts by citing the legal reasons for the school’s policy – reasons which are entirely spurious, the provisions of the Equalities Act when it comes to recognition of gender reassignment do not apply to under 18’s in educational establishments, for reasons of needing to balance the needs of all the vulnerable pupils, but then goes on to distort the words of Pope Francis who has been pretty vociferous about gender ideology, especially in schools, and finishes up in a passive aggressive prayer.

The message is clear. If you are a nice compassionate wholesome Christian (which is indeed what we all aspire to be) then you will simply accept that the right thing to do is upturn 2000 years of magisterial teaching about what it means to be male and female. You will trample roughshod over the rights of the majority in a misguided attempt to reach out to the minority and validate their confusion. An attempt which is likely to do long-term physical, psychological and spiritual damage.

At least in a secular school, you haven’t got to contend with blasphemy. But either way, as a parent, when your school decides that Dave is now Roxanne, can wear a dress, can boot your daughter off the netball team, use her loos and stare enviously at her naturally developing figure and covet the ‘privilege’ of her menstrual cycle, short of taking your child out of the school, there is nothing you can do, other than keep your head down, try to teach your kids the right values and hope that they come out of there with a reasonable clutch of exam results. Though there’s no point in encouraging your daughters to attend single-sex University colleges any more. They must share all of their spaces with men. If you teach your children to stand up to and oppose this balderdash, you know full well that your child could well end up in isolation and with a charge of homophobic or transphobic bullying on their record for hurting poor Roxanne’s feelings. Something needs to be done. At the very minimum Justine Greening’s Gender Recognition Act, which seeks an Orwellian re-writing of history and biology,  needs to be challenged.

From what I am seeing parents of all denominations and none, Catholics, feminists, atheists, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, humanists, people who feel vaguely spiritual, are all united against having this unscientific and highly politicised ideology and identity politics imposed upon their children, but are all too worried about losing their jobs, or their children being picked on by teachers, to say anything. Meanwhile, groups like Mermaids (who are nothing more than a glorified campaign group run by a woman who procured illegal off-script hormones for their child aged 12 then took him abroad aged 16 for a castration in Asia when the NHS wouldn’t sanction it) are dominating the agenda with emotional blackmail about how if you don’t accept your child’s feelings, then you are going to force them to commit suicide. It’s unsubstantiated cant. (For those wanting more insight and to research the issue further, the website transgender trend is an excellent resource and place to start).

What the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in England and Wales needs to do, along with the Catholic Education Service is provide a strong lead on this. They have a duty to parents and children to say that this non-Catholic, harmful and scientifically unproven political agenda, will not be taught in Catholic schools.

Otherwise we will see what we are seeing now. In the absence of any leadership, schools are toppling one-by-one like dominoes, just as happened with the adoption agencies and ceasing to be Catholic in any meaningful sense. What’s happening is that in the absence of any firm guidance from either the CES or diocese, schools are being left to grope their own way through this minefield and are calling in the self-professed experts of LGBT lobby groups, who only want to promote their own agenda.

To be fair, I don’t entirely blame the CES or schools. Ofsted is driving most of this and is the institution which needs standing up to. Their guidelines about the appropriate treatment of children who present as transgender are not worth the paper they are written on. Of course children experiencing confusion must be treated with dignity and compassion, but not at the expense of undermining basic Catholic teaching, or at the expense of everyone else’s freedom and dignity. It’s legitimate to question the explosion of children presenting as transgender, when just this weekend, the former headmaster of Harrow, noted that in 40 years of teaching experience in single-sex schools, transgenderism did not become an issue until 2015.

In the case of transgender children this is is their entire lives and future health which is at stake here, which is all being determined on account of some anxious and distressing confusion during puberty. In the case of all of our children, this is their souls which are at stake. Parents must begin to rise up and resist this misguided moralism, which is infinitely more damaging than any of the Catholic guilt imbued into pupils by the over-zealous religious nuns and monks in Catholic educational establishments of the past.

Otherwise, if Catholic schools are going to teach that male and female are interchangeable, that God somehow stuffed up in Creation and that we can reject our bodies as He made them and transform them into the stuff of our imagination; if Catholic schools are going to teach pupils that biology no longer exists, and that we can force other people to see us as we would like to be seen, rather than through the eyes of the Creator, if Catholic schools are going to sanction turning children into liars and are going to teach that we can override others’ free will and that all that matters is how we imagine ourselves to be, then there’s very little point in having Catholic schools at all. We might as well shut them all down, save ourselves the bother and the money. Or maybe that ’s the plan all along?

Private schools and educational privations

Like many parents up and down the country, we are currently in the process of reviewing the various local primary schools in our area in order to attempt to secure a place for our rising-4 for September entry next year.

Our decision is set against the backdrop of vehement arguments between the merits of private, grammar school and free school education propounded by those such as Peter Hitchens and Toby Young and that of a fully comprehensive system as advocated by those such as former adviser to Cherie Blair, Fiona Miller (Alistair Campbell’s wife) and Owen Jones.

To give Campbell and Miller their due, while I am no fan of their politics, they have certainly put their money where their mouth is – all of their children attended state comprehensives in the London borough of Camden. Of course a child’s home environment is at least as important as the school itself, Campbell and Miller’s children were bound to do well wherever they went, but nonetheless I have to confess a certain grudging admiration for them for eschewing the hypocrisy of other leading political figures in the Labour party, such as Diane Abbot who unashamedly sent her son to private school using inverse racism to qualify her decision.

 Were we fortunate enough to enjoy the salary and lifestyle of the Campbell family, faced between the choice of a private school and a Camden comp, the kids would be straight on the tube to the nearest school uniform outfitters to pick up their boaters, blazers and checked kilts.

If John Major is correct about the shocking influence of major private schools in public life, and I believe that he is, a healthy society is not one in which only the wealthy elite have access to positions of power and responsibility, the answer is not to introduce more quotas or to abolish private education, but ask ourselves what it is about private education that is perpetuating this situation.

Ripostes about old-school ties are glib, while social networking can undoubtedly help, it will only get one so far. You don’t get into Oxford, or even become Prime Minister or Chancellor of the Exchequr on social contacts alone. There needs to be some measure of talent and ability. A contact (whether it be from school or somewhere else) can only get you so far. It may secure a job interview but if you don’t actually possess the requisite skills to be successful in your chosen field, name-dropping or appealing to Rupert’s daddy isn’t going to help you.

I attended two public schools, neither of which have ever been any use in securing any sort of position and neither have I kept in close contact with many of my peers. I didn’t go to university. No-one was interested in where I had been to school when I worked for one of the top five accountancy firms, or in investment banking or private equity. Of far more interest was previous experience and skills and qualifications to do the job in question, as well as possessing the necessary cojones to work in the unique environment of the trading floor. None of my bosses were privately educated either and blethering on about various members of the aristocracy or society set whom I used to sit next to in school nor indeed would discussing the offspring of various sporting superstars or celebrities have cut any ice .

But there is undoubtedly something that certain schools impart, whether they be private, grammar or religiously selective, which we should be seeking to distill, emulate and apply across the board, so that all pupils have the same opportunity to achieve both personal and academic excellence.

Educationalists and social scientists will have differing ideas about not only what excellence looks like, but also how to achieve it. My perspective is an unusual one in that my eldest daughter currently attends an independent school, due to provision put in place by her biological father, which is obviously not available for my youngest three children.

At present my daughter is caught up in three days of rigorous exams, the intensity of which have surprised me, given that she is only in Year 5. We’ve had weeks of revision sessions, sheets to download with expected knowledge, in French she needs to be able to spell concepts such as giving directions, the weather and the various shops and points of interest in a town centre, as well as decline two verbs and write in sentences. In history she needs to write essays, in Mandarin recognise and write characters, in Latin decline nouns, and the science and maths seems inordinately detailed and complicated.

At first I was rather taken aback, this seemed an awful lot to be placing on a nine year old, we’ve been concentrating on not stressing-out over exams, stating that as long as she does her best it doesn’t matter, and instead of cramming, doing bite-sized revision sessions once or twice a day. They’ve also been focussing heavily on revision sessions in lessons.

 I guess the point is to get them used to exams and assessment and to be fair my daughter is coping really well and isn’t fussed at all. Another child, her best friend, has just left however, because she had a number of learning difficulties and was simply unable to cope, feeling too different to her peers and under too much pressure. It demonstrates nonetheless that all schools are results driven, concentrating on measuring and evaluating children according to a given scale, comparing them against their peers, instead of concentrating upon helping them to achieve their own individual and unique potential.

 Since the age of 5, my daughter has learnt multiple languages as part of the curriculum, French, Spanish and Mandarin, and this year Latin has been added. I thought she’d struggle with so many, but she has thrived and loves her Latin and Classics. We forget, children’s minds are like sponges. In addition, they have PE or games three times a week, and regardless of ability the school ensures that all children have the opportunity to compete in sports matches, even if they subsequently learn that they are not very good and won’t always get picked, or need to practice skills. She sings in a school choir, which she loves, there are regular church services (far more liberal/muscular Christian that would be my preference) such as for Remembrance Day on Monday, tonight she’s singing to switch on Hove Christmas lights, she recently went on a three day residential trip to France, every year she is involved in a theatrical production, she produces spectacular artwork, in short the extra curricular opportunities and activities are excellent.

 No school is perfect and to our minds the religious character of the school could be better, comparative RS drives us up the wall, when you are of a certain faith, it isn’t bigotry to tell them that we don’t believe the tenets of other religions and we wish that she could learn a lot more about her own faith. We don’t want Catholicism to be that weird thing that mummy and dad do at home, but it is mainly unsupported and at times undermined by  the school’s culture.

But you can’t have everything, and, as the recent departure of her best friend illustrates, there is no one-size fits all school. There are many many things that her school gets right, they are rigorous about uniform standards and codes of behaviour, pupils are rewarded or penalised with pluses and minuses, there is a strong and healthy culture of house competition and each pupil is encouraged and incentivised to achieve their personal best and play to their strengths.

When looking around at the local schools for our other children, the over-riding feeling is one of sadness. We are the lucky ones. There are some excellent Catholic primary schools in the area, all of which are oversubscribed, and our younger children will be supported and encouraged in their faith at school. Added to which they achieve high standards academically and have good Ofsted reports.

It would be a lie to pretend that academically they were of the same standard though, the younger ones aren’t going to get to learn Mandarin, Spanish and Latin, nor are they going to enjoy the numerous extra curricular activities that are offered on site. With four children, driving around Sussex for three separate lots of ballet, martial arts and instrumental lessons, isn’t going to be logistically feasible.

Our home environment will enable our youngest three, if not to enjoy the same type of education as our eldest, at least to succeed to their highest potential and we can always  and probably will, supplement as necessary.

 The idea of the perfect school is a myth, regardless of whether it is religious, independent or state and will vary from child to child. Obviously there are things about my eldest daughter’s school that could be improved, not least in terms of better supporting those with special needs, although my daughter’s friend is now much happier in a local state primary. For us the perfect mix would be the academic and extra-curricular facilities of her current school with a strongly Catholic ethos.

My kids will be okay however and I’ll get over the fact that they can’t have the same level of opportunity as my eldest. Life isn’t always fair. Private schools have to ensure that parents get value for money and therefore need to offer something over and above the normal. If opponents to public schools want them abolished then they need to do something to ensure that they are redundant and eliminate the need.

As a Christian, my primary duty is not to educate my children in purely academic terms, but bring them up to understand that they are children of God with all the accompanying responsibilities. They need to learn that this life is only a prelude.

If I am regretful or melancholy over the fact that my  younger kids aren’t going to receive the creme de la creme education that every child deserves, I can at least console myself with the fact they will receive a decent start at a Catholic school.

What makes me so incandescent about this, is that schooling matters. It can help raise kids out of poverty. What about the children in the rough council estates of the city, whose parents don’t have a religious faith, who don’t have the cash to pay for private schools or move into a more salubrious area and are crammed into the portacabin or ICT suite of one of the local primaries which are bursting at the seams due to Brighton’s primary schools being at over-capacity? Why shouldn’t Katie Hopkins’ dreaded Tyler or Kay-cie have the chance to learn languages, or benefit from copious playing fields? Subject to strict standards of behaviour and incentives in school from an early age, a chaotic background can be surmounted.

 In an society which places personal autonomy above other values, there is no autonomy when it comes to selecting the right school for your child. If you are rich and or religious, you have more choice than most, but even so, you have to take your chances, there’s no guarantee that my children will get a place at any of our preferred choices. As happens to many, the children will be allocated a school at random to ensure the LEA have met their responsibilities. Typically the schools with the leftover places are those which don’t perform all that well, due to a variety of cultural factors. If that happens I’ll home educate, but how many families are in a position to do so?

Average is not acceptable. We should be aiming for excellence across the board and for all levels of ability, instead of moulding children into a one-size fits all. Whether at primary or secondary level, access to academic, sporting, musical or creative excellence should not be the preserve of the super-rich. Every time I appreciate how good her education is, I am overcome with a pang of sadness intermingled with outrage that this is not on offer for all.

Once upon a time private education was within the reach of many middle-class families and were also accessible to children from working class backgrounds thanks to the now-abolished assisted places scheme. Thanks to rising costs of living and the bubble in the housing market, above inflation private school fee increases, mean that they are now accessible only to those with a hefty chunk of disposable income. Together with an increasingly ideological curriculum, it’s hardly a surprise that home-schooling is in the ascendance, or that Free Schools are being set up left, right and centre. People want more than what is currently on offer.

Securing a Catholic education

Taken from the Catholic Universe – 8 September 2013

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The row over faith schools has been reignited this week following the British Humanist Association’s successful challenge to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator with regards to the entry criteria for the London Oratory in Fulham, one of the UK’s leading Catholic Schools.

Under its current admissions policies, one of the criteria under which children are prioritised is that of ‘service’ by a child or their parent within a Catholic church or community over at least three years, which could include singing in the choir, being on the flower-arranging rota or some kind of church based voluntary work. The Oratory had argued that this is a religious activity in accordance with canon law, however the adjudicator disagreed, stating that the criterion meant parents who wanted a place for their children would need to start planning three or four years in advance of their child’s admission. This apparently would favour those who were sufficiently well-organised and that it therefore excluded more chaotic and presumably more disadvantaged families.  It is apparently unfair that parents should be need to be thinking about school admissions four years ahead of actually requiring a place.

Firstly, one has to question what right the British Humanist Association has to challenge and interfere with the admissions criteria of Catholic schools, to whom they are vehemently opposed. This was little more than a thinly veiled and intolerant attack upon the rights of parents to be able to give their children an education of their choosing.

What the British Humanist Association and other secular lobby groups fail to grasp, is that though all faith schools enjoy state funding, they are also funded by the Church itself, which currently contributes around £20 million a year towards the capital costs of her schools in England and Wales. It is therefore only right and proper that schools should be able to maintain a Catholic ethos, part of which must include reserving the majority of its places for children from the Catholic community, for whom they were established to serve.

In most Catholic schools, the proportion of non-Catholic students is actually much higher than the government’s stipulated 15%, the proportion of Catholic students is around 75% in England, 65% in Wales, meaning that the non-Catholic students number around a third of the total intake, more than double the official requirements, but obviously there are also some schools, such as the Oratory, who are hugely over-subscribed, which is where difficulty arises.

The Catholic Education Service is opposed to admissions criteria such as those of the Oratory, because as the schools’ adjudicator says, it can disadvantage those of a lower social status or those families where both parents work, making it difficult for them to be involved in parish work, meaning that the Catholic Church falls short in her duty to provide education for the entire Catholic population.

I confess to having very mixed feelings on the topic, speaking in the position of someone who will shortly be applying to our over-subscribed local Catholic primary for a place for our daughter next year. The demands of 4 young children, 2 of whom are little more than babies, does admittedly make it extremely difficult to get involved in various parish activities, reading at Mass for example, would be impossible. Were my husband working long hours as a layman, as he did in the period between being an Anglican clergyman and attending seminary, it would be a Herculean task. But that said, despite working long and irregular shift patterns, he still did what he could. Not because we had an eye on school admissions, (our local school doesn’t require any service element) but because as Catholics we felt obligated to contribute to our community in some way.

The thinking on school admissions seems to emanate from cynicism. Most people do not get involved in parish work due to some ulterior motive, but because they generously want to give of their time and energy and be involved in the work of the Kingdom.

We have to remember that Catholic schools are not solely about imparting a first-class academic education, but also raising our children in the habits of the faith, teaching them first and foremost about their vocation as Christians. Therefore it should be hoped that most Catholic parents are already somehow involved in their local community, even if their commitment can only extend to baking cakes for the parish fair, or occasionally helping out on an ad-hoc basis as required.

Catholic schools are rightly disbarred from probing into the Catholicity of parents, but we all know of cases where parents have turned up solely for the required period of time to enable the priest to sign the school form in good conscience, never to be seen again once the child has started school. It therefore feels innately unfair that parents who have been local parish stalwarts for a period of time, could well miss out as a result of such opportunism. The requirement for service certainly overcomes this particular issue.

Ultimately however, whilst we continue to have over-subscribed Catholic schools, there can be no perfect system, frequent Mass attendance or parish service being imperfect ways of selecting pupils, as they both rule out recent converts or those who may have only just moved to a particular area.

The great injustice of the British education system is that effectively it is only those with the cash to pay for private schools or to move into the right catchment area, or those with faith who are able to access a good education. Catholic schools are regularly applauded as being excellent models of education by the education watchdogs. What we need is more of them, so that places are available, not only for every baptised Catholic to receive the education that is their right, but also for anyone else of whatever religion who feels that a Catholic formation could be of benefit to their child.