Parish priest gives it straight over church schools

By Jonathan Bartley
September 30, 2010

I have just been sent a letter which was published in the Education Guardian, in response to Sharon Wright’s article on her experience of being a governor at a church school.

It comes from a parish priest of 35 years experience in Chichester diocese, who tells it like it is, which is very refreshing.

In particular he makes the important point, which hadn’t really occurred to me before, that many children with SEN are put off attending faith schools because the churches they must attend in order to get in, aren’t often very accessible environments for them.

I can’t find the text of the letter online, so here it is in full:

Dear Education Guardian

I could not agree more with Sharon Wright's article. I am a Parish Priest of 35 years experience, and I have been Chair of Governors at both church and LEA schools. I have become increasingly alarmed at the subterfuge, double standards and straightforward lying to which parents feel they have to resort to gain a place at what they think is (but often is not) the local school that offers the best educational chances for their child.

It is not however, just down to manipulative parents and governors - the clergy involved with Voluntary Aided Schools often collude, giving an entirely false impression that if you don't bring your child to St X's, stick them in the Sunday School, and turn up to help at Church events, you needn't bother applying. Many parents, who unsurprisingly know no better, fall for this line. This adds to the exclusion of children with special needs as parents often feel reluctant to attend church with a child who may 'misbehave'.
The current legal position, which allows faith schools cynically to work the system, is a nonsense both ethically and morally, and urgently needs reform. I would encourage all who have suffered because of it, or have seen others do so, to sign up to Accord, which has already proved itself an effective and responsible lobby group for change.

I am under no illusions about how difficult it will be to turn this particular juggernaut round, nor how long it will take - but for the sake of our nation's children, we have to try.

(The Rev) Stephen Terry

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