Posted: Wed, 15 Dec 2021
The dominance of faith schools in certain areas forces families seeking a local education into impossible choices, as Hannah from Kent explains.
Our family – my husband and two children – live in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Most of the primary schools in the area are faith-based, and my children both went to the local Church of England (CofE) school. They had to attend church regularly with school, with worship being compulsory.
When it came to them leaving primary school, I knew it would be difficult. A few of my 'mum' friends had been attending church for a good few years in preparation to get their children into a local school if a grammar one wasn't on the cards. As an atheist, this was definitely not an option for us. Even if I could pretend, why should I, and what message would it send?
When my daughter left primary school first, and didn't take the 11+, we were left with one non-religious school option in Tunbridge Wells. Unfortunately, we were too far from the catchment area and the school is oversubscribed as it is.
Our closest school, a five minute drive or 20 minute walk, is a Catholic (RC) school with a great reputation aided by their extremely strict entry criteria. You have to be a practicing Catholic, attend church three to four times per month and be baptised.
When it came to writing down our choices, I put the RC school first. My reason being it's the closest and my children would do well there. They are used to religion being imposed on them from primary school. I've always told them religion is their choice. However, probably in part due to religion being pushed on them at school, they've not decided to follow a faith. My second choice school was a CofE school which was also close to my house, a 10 minute car trip. The same criteria as the RC school. My third choice was the oversubscribed non-religious school which would have been tricky for them to get to.
I was shocked when we instead got a school which was approximately an hour away. It would have meant my daughter would have had to get two buses and would need to be driven to a bus stop in our local town for 6.15am. I was furious. Why should our daughter be penalised for having non-religious parents?
I decided to appeal to the RC school but I knew it wouldn't make any difference, having to travel further is not a good enough reason for them to let you into a more local school.
My only option in the end was to get a form signed by the vicar where my children were at primary school. They were attending church mandatorily at least once a month with school so I decided to ask him to sign my form. He stated that they had attended church sometimes once a month with school but that their parents were not regular church goers. He questioned me about why they weren't baptised (a choice we left up to them) and said that he would very much like it if my daughter returned to his church one day for her wedding.
I sent the form to the school and eventually a place came up. My children are both doing well there. RE is compulsory for GCSE and even though my daughter is doing A-levels, she still has to attend an RE lesson once a week. They also must attend Mass and have been forced to pray ever since primary school. My other daughter is 18 now and doesn't pray, but when she refused previously this was deemed unacceptable by her school.
Some people say that if you want your children to go to a local faith school, you can't complain about the indoctrination. But, particularly in Kent, if you don't go to church or grammar school then your options are minimal. Children shouldn't be expected to travel horrendous distances, or lose out on making their own decision on whether they want to pray or not.