From the article, "I don’t want to find God to find a good school" by Pippa Crerar posted by THE LONDON EVENING STANDARD:

A few weeks ago I was asked to a friend's son's christening. “We haven't found God, just a really good church school” she scrawled across the bottom of the invitation. In days gone by I might have huffed and puffed about the hypocrisy of it all. But now I'm a parent myself and school admission is hovering on the horizon.

We share the dilemma faced by thousands of families across London. Our home is just about equidistant between a fairly average Church of England school and a local primary that has been in special measures for the past two years. The idealist in me says stand by your principles — I believe in community and the impact supportive parents can have on a school. The parent in me says: do whatever is best for your child's education.

But the choice, such as it is, also makes me cross. Why are so many inner London schools still so poor that parents feel they have to lie about religion, compromise their principles, or even — and most can't afford this option — move house to secure a half-decent place?

My husband and I keep telling ourselves that wherever our son ends up, our involvement with his education at home, at least at this stage, is just as important as his teachers' input at school. So for the time being we're sticking with the local school. It's either that or dust off my Sunday best.

COMMENT: This is a real problem for parents in England and has been for a long time. Successive governments have tried to balance the level of academic achievement between C. of E. and state schools, with very little success and where there has been change it has tended to be a negative convergence. Why C. of E. schools should be, on the whole, better at educating children than state schools is a question that many have attempted to answer, apparently without success. I don't believe teachers at state schools are any less gifted than teachers in church schools, and you get church schools in "rough" areas as frequently as you get state schools in such neighbourhoods. But even in the most problematic, inner city districts, church schools seem to do better than state schools. I have worked, in my priestly role, in both church and state schools and it certainly seems obvious to me, from my experience, that, if nothing else, teachers in church schools have more control over their pupils than state school teachers have over their charges, even comparing working class schools with middle class schools. In fact, going into schools where the pupils are the children of school teachers, doctors etc. can be like trying to take assembly in the middle of no man's land on the Somme during WWI (I find it's just the same with church congregations). Therefore, my guess is that it is down to the ethos of church schools compared to state schools. This guess is backed up by the fact that when you ask parents about their choice of school they put the discipline, safe environment and moral teaching of church schools at the top of their list of factors that influence them, even above academic considerations (although a Christian ethos and good academic results seem to go hand in hand more often than not). Of course, there are poor church schools and exceedingly good state schools (especially at primary level in rural locations). I am using very broad brushstrokes here.

When I was young the achievement of a school tended to depend on its demographic rather than any church affiliation. It seems that, over the intervening years, state schools have lost something that church schools have managed to maintain. Back when I was a kid, the secular moral framework was almost identical to the Anglican one. The same cannot be said of English society nowadays. I'm not talking about sex and stuff but of collective responsibility and altruism, nebulous things like those. One thing that is usually rammed home at church schools is that life is not just about personal enrichment but that it should also be about community. Of course, if you are teaching children such stuff you are not going to get them to take any notice of you unless you really believe and practice what you're preaching. So, perhaps teachers informed by a strong Christian ethic, or even just a Christian head teacher, do end up turning out "better" adults than teachers and head teachers who think there's nothing more to life than what humans make of it.

NOTE: Church schools in England (outside the private sector) are still overseen by the state authorities at local and national level. But the sponsoring church does have a lot of influence over the ethos and practices of the school via positions on the board of governors and the drawing up of codes of practice etc.

The Church of England doesn't tend to police the faith beliefs of the teachers at their schools although they will insist that their general moral outlook is in the Anglican ball park. This is not the same in most Roman Catholic, evangelical sponsored academies and the schools run by other faiths, where an insistence on membership of the relevant faith group, and the teaching of key doctrines of the particular faith involved, is often required of teachers. There was a lot of media attention in my local area a few years back when an academy sponsored by a rich, hardcore evangelical insisted that it's science teachers stated that the beginning of Genesis was an acceptable explanation of how we all got here. Yes, such things aren't just found in the Bible Belt of the United States - they even, occasionally, go down in boring, old England.



  1. I have come to roughly the same conclusion on this side of the pond. I think it is both the ethos of the school and the ethos of the parents.

    Here, both Lutheran and Roman Catholic schools routinely out-perform public schools regardless of neighborhood, economic status or budget. In fact, the church schools tend to pay less and spend less. Yet they are disproportionately represented in honor classes and merit scholarships.

    I know some of the Lutheran teachers and my sons went to one of their schools. They are actually considered ministers and treated as such (yes that means they are underpaid.) But that may be the difference.


  2. My take, having been a parent, governor and visitor to church and state schools, is that the best schools tend to value each child and provide support and encouragement and a sense of belonging regardless of academic or other ability. This in turn makes discipline easier and helps to fulfil potential where other schools might tend to give up. I suspect that church schools often do slightly better at countering the kind of despair and cynicism that life in the inner city (and other difficult enviroments) can breed. Having said that, the county (state) schools I visit regularly also do this and have an atmosphere which is a joy to experience.

  3. I don’t know what exactly happened to education in the US, but it is so badly messed up in the way it is run that on average, new teachers stay in the profession only five years before nleaving teaching for good. You would think SOMEONE in a leading position in American schools would be investigating why this is so, but they apparently haven’t done it, and the teachers keep leaving. It’s a phenomenal waste of resources and talent.

  4. “Why C. of E. schools should be, on the whole, better at educating children than state schools is a question that many have attempted to answer, apparently without success.”

    You don’t think it has anything to do with the fact that CoE schools aren’t troubled with non English speaking children from immigrant families from non-Christian countries?

  5. Wow! Thanks, Maddie! That removes one cherished prejudice.

    But… this article is about parents pretending to be Christians to get their children into a good school. So how come there are CoE schools with a majority Muslim intake?

  6. It’s because these parents want to live in nice, white areas. The church schools, as they were usually established 60 or more years ago, tend to be situated near the old centres of towns or districts. It used to be that you could only attend a school if you lived in it’s catchment area. But the tories got rid of that rule. So, C. of E. schools will automatically take kids from their catchment area and any spare places can be offered to children outside of their area. This is where church schools start putting up hurdles so that they have something by which they can decide who gets the places. I’m sure some schools abuse the system and are more selective than I claim. But they would be the minority. And most C. of E. schools (and Catholic schools for that matter) are very welcoming of children of other faiths. It’s the snotty nosed spawn of Guardian reading atheists that they try to keep out. That’s why said hell bound parents have to lie about their religion and go to church. Personally, I love it. It’s sweet revenge for the working classes and all the old ladies who pay to keep the churches going.

  7. That’s why said hell bound parents have to lie about their religion and go to church.

    Which hopefully most clerics would see through anyway.

  8. Which hopefully most clerics would see through anyway.

    Yes. But we never turn them away. They pay well and are very willing to help out around the place in order to prove what good Christains they are.

  9. That pic was taken THIS MORNING, I’ll have you know 🙂

    You will notice however I stuffed it up by cutting off the side of my head. In fact I did that with several of my attempts. So, no use for ID.