Governor’s perspective: How faith schools prioritise religion over education

Posted: Fri, 31 May 2019

School sign

Matthew is the governor at a Church of England school in Cornwall. He says those running the school have made it a priority to push religion on children.

I am a parent governor at my local rural primary school which is a voluntary aided C of E faith school. I am also a teacher of 13 years at a local secondary school and sixth form.

The governing body always ensures that the majority are 'foundation governors' which means they are appointed by the church and have to come from regular churchgoers. The rest are school staff or parent governors.

What is striking in governors' meetings (apart from the embarrassing prayer and grace) is that members who make up the numbers tend to lack experience of meetings or leadership. They also seem to be more concerned with the number of crucifixes and school visits to the church than oversight of education. It often seems I am the only numerate person in the room focusing on the school data.

The same sentiments are shared with SIAMS, which inspects C of E schools. Its visits require large amounts of repeated work for staff and (as we discovered) give near identical feedback to several schools including (again) the number of crucifixes and age-appropriate understanding of the Trinity.

SIAMS requires documentary evidence in the shape of a lengthy self-evaluation form and specific evidence of worship and Christian ethos and values. Ofsted recognised the administrative burden this level of documentation places on schools and removed these requirements a number of years ago.

I cannot express my dismay in the meetings but am constantly, subtly reminding staff and other governors that the DfE and the parents are the largest stakeholders and our purpose is not boosting the count in our local church.

The governors are convinced, despite the evidence, that parents have chosen this school because it is a church school, not that it is the nearest. Only a handful of children attend church in our village. The next nearest school is three miles away and is also a C of E school. The nearest community school is five miles away and would be a challenging choice for any parent wishing their child to be part of our village's community.

As a governor I see teachers' time wasted on implementing SIAMS inspection recommendations, for example by producing floor mats to document religious themes and celebrating the crucifixion of Jesus at Easter.

In contrast I teach evidence, tolerance and rational argument to my 11-18 year old students. I am pleased to say that religious dogma plays virtually no role.

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