17/02/2011 2 comments

The website Mumsnet has been in the news recently. Apparently it is courted by politicians of all persuasions anxious to see what mothers think of their policies on the family. Not being a Mum, I hadn’t paid much attention, but the other day I browsed it out of curiosity. On one of the forums I stumbled across this discusion. The start is:

DD is 10. Tonight she has got out of bed to ask if she has been christened. I explained that no, she hasn’t (DH and I are atheists) and that if she wanted to enter a religion when she is older, she can make her own mind up.
I asked her why she wanted to know, and she said a group called CRIBS had come to her (non-religious) school, and had talked about heaven.
She said they were told that if you were not christened, then when you die you are ‘in limbo’ and cannot go to heaven. She is now really worried about this.
I told her that it’s just their interpretation, and how do we know what the truth is, as no-one has ever come back to prove it! Also reminded her that there are many religions, they can’t all be right!
Is it worth mentioning to the school?

Interesting to see that almost all the respondents were aghast at what was going on. Perhaps, the politicians paying Mumsnet such flattery will take account of opinions like these?

(Incidentally, I Googled CRIBS and they do seem – to my eyes – quite sinsister.)


The Vicar’s Coming Round, Quick Hide the Dawkins…

10/02/2011 1 comment

The Church of England’s baptism rite is in the news at the moment. Apparently, they’ve noticed that fewer and fewer children are being baptised and have concluded that, rather than people being less and less interested in religion, it is due to the archaic wording of the service. It goes on about “entering the Kingdom of Heaven” – or so they say: I was one month old when I was done so my memory is a little hazy.

Last week as we left Church, we got chatting to the Vicar – all good face-time. Make sure he sees us in the pews and knows who we are for when the all important letter needs signing. He asked if our children had been baptised. If I’d been quick, I’d have just lied and said “Yes”. (I’m sure there’s a record in the CofE somewhere, but he’s hardly likely to check it.) Unfortunately, my wife was quicker and more honest. The children haven’t been baptised. He suggested we do something about it and has offered to come round for a chat.

Hence the title of this post. My bookshelf is full of books by Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Grayling of the “new” atheists, and some “old” atheists like Russell and Flew. Some popular science on Darwin and some sceptical biblical criticism. I even have a copy of the Book of Mormon I pinched from a US hotel room. Thankfully, there’s also a Bible in the house somewhere.

As I contemplate moving at least a shelf-full of the more damning ones, I wonder if we’ve got too involved….

The Popularity of Faith Schools

23/01/2011 1 comment

Yesterday I caught the repeat of BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions. You can probably get it on iPlayer for the next few days.

On the panel was Christopher Jamison, a Catholic Priest. Read all about him here if you can bear it. During the question on Baroness Warsi’s recent remarks about being mean to Muslims being socially acceptable, he tried to argue that the best way to ensure that a minority becomes integrated and trusted is to fund their schools. At this point there was loud barracking from the audience and cries of “Shame”. I think only Eric Pickles defending the Government’s NHS plans got a more noisy response. Surveys have shown that the public at large do not like faith schools and don’t want any more of them. But all Governments see determined to push more of them on us.

When is a political party going to start reflecting the public view of this? Ed Miliband has his famous “blank piece of paper” and Nick Clegg will have to start making his policies look different from Tory ones at some point.

Well it finally happened…

17/01/2011 1 comment

…Not a sudden conversion. Not the Stockholm Syndrome. No. I find myself in church, as a adult, singing Kum By Yah whilst various members of the audience bang tambourines. Truly horrible.

For some reason yesterday the normal service (CofE slow hymn singing and recitations) became all happy-clappy. This had better not continue. It’s bad enough attending church when it’s merely boring; when it makes you cringe it is just too much.

The Pod Delusion, Andrew Penman and Faith Schools

29/10/2010 2 comments

I recently discovered a pod-cast with the excellent title of The Pod Delusion. As you’d guess, it’s from a secular, rationalist view point.

Just finished listening to episode 56 which features a brief interview with journalist Andrew Penman. In it Penman cogently explains the reasons why he attended church for some years to get into the local state Primary. It was great listening for me – although his dilemma concerned a Primary and mine is about a Secondary School – many of his reasons and experiences are the same as mine. What’s more we both know that many of the other attendees are also faking it but everyone plays along. He makes similar comments about the demographics of his church that I have made about mine and wonders, as I do, just how bad CofE attendance figures would be if the atheists-with-kids stopped going.

The interviewer also admits to faking religion: just how widespread is this practice? It seems that Penman is unusual in speaking about it. He also wrote about this in a book School Daze and an article in The Independent – which got quite a few negative comments on it from believers unhappy at what he did. These same commenters rarely mention the fact that “their” schools are paid for by all of us and yet get to exclude some of us on the grounds of religion.

I heartily recommend The Pod Delusion. You can download the MP3 of Episode 56 here and the Penman interview is about 34 minutes in.

Admissions Policies

22/09/2010 3 comments

An interesting article in The Guardian from the other side of the admissions procedure. It seems that – not only are the parent’s playing games to get the school of their choice – the schools are playing games to get the ‘right’ children in. I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone, but it it useful to see it confirmed by someone who has witnessed it.

This makes me wonder about the admissions policies from the school I am considering. At the meeting that I described a while back Faith High were keen to stress that it is possible to get into their school without a Vicar’s letter. At the time I thought this was charitable of them – or maybe they were facing the reality of falling rolls in my daughter’s year – now I wonder.

The primary school my children attend is one of the ‘better’ ones in the area with a good intake. Does Faith High give the same reassurance to some of the nearby primaries with not such a good reputation?

BBC: The Big School Lottery

08/09/2010 3 comments

Well, after my quick comment on this last week, I thought I’d better watch it. If you didn’t you can catch up on iPlayer.

Although not about faith schools they did appear prominently. In fact, I found the whole thing quite depressing. The UK’s schools admissions systems is not only distorted by faith schools but there are also catchment areas and, in some places, grammar schools to consider. (Let’s not even get into private education.)

Each of these has it’s own insidious effect I would imagine. Grammar schools – all very well if your child passes the 11+ but what if she doesn’t? What if (as I believe happens) one of your children passes and the other doesn’t? Catchment areas? The best schools are in the more affluent areas due to the intake, so more parents want to move there, so house prices rise, and so on.

The programme was (in the first episode at least) just a presentation of what actually happens. Although this gives the lie to the Government’s “parental choice” mantra it doesn’t go anywhere towards looking at what can be done to improve the system. It did not address this question at all with respect to faith schools or grammar schools. There was an attempt to ask about the fairness of catchment areas when they questioned the woman who was in charge of admissions in Birmingham1 if she sympathised with parents giving false addresses to get the schools they wanted.

I hope that the subsequent programmes in this series  look at this – or it will be a glaring omission. It seems to me that the inequalities created by faith schools are the least  justified  and the most easily addressed. Opponents of grammar schools may feel the same way, but I haven’t looked into this. Catchment areas are probably the hardest problem to address.

It’s worth contrasting with the recent Dawkins film where just one problem with the admissions system was looked at and – crucially – the questions of fairness, the impact on teaching some subjects, and social cohesion were examined.

1 This was the funniest moment in the film. When she was going about spying on houses to see if the child really did live where the parents said they did, she said something like “we do this to help parents identify where they live”. No you don’t. The parents know damn well where they live: you’re doing it to identify parents who are lying on their application form!