Marvel at this unintentionally revealing Guardian story about the lengths middle-class parents go to to get their children into church schools. It opens with a Jewish mother admitting that she feels hypocritical attending Church of England services so that her two kids can get into the local church school. At least she is honest about her motivations—both to the vicar of the church and to the author of piece, Natasha Walter.
Everyone in the article takes the word “selection” not to mean “selection by aptitude”, but “selection by class”—which is, of course, what the current English educational system cultivates beautifully, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain—but notice how the author uses two of her interviewees to taint parents who want their kids to go to a “nice” school with the gravest Guardian slur: the ‘R’ word. One is a mother, “a BBC producer” no less, with offspring at a school with a “a lot of Turkish and Afro-Caribbean children”:
“It sticks in my throat that they dress it up as religion,” she says passionately. “I love the school my kids go to. I remember going to one open day there, with Turkish singing, Indian dancing, English line dancing. To me, that’s what living in London is about – seeing a black kid in a hoodie next to a little girl in jilbab doing a line dance together. It’s just amazing. That’s how it should be. But up the road there are these white Christian kids turning their noses up at that, and it makes my blood boil. My feeling is that if these parents are so freaked out by the kids they are living next door to, they should get off back to Berkshire. It’s not about religion. It’s about snobbery and racism.”
Diane Reay, professor of education at Cambridge University, has been researching the school choices that parents make for many years. She agrees that middle-class parents do make choices based on their fear that their child might lose their class status, and that schools are becoming more polarised as a result. She talks about the “white flight” not just into selective faith schools, but also into schools that select through their wealthy catchment areas, or, of course, school fees.
It’s that rhetorical racism again.
“As a whole, this part of north London is a great melting pot, home to immigrants from all over the world, many of them Muslims. On its outskirts is a very good, very oversubscribed church school, St John’s Highbury Vale, which siphons off many of the Christian children, particularly white middle-class children, from the area. Of the three churches that feed the school, the most ethnically mixed congregation is at St Thomas’s.”
Can you imagine a Guardian journalist writing an article about how Sikh or Islamic schools “siphon off brown children”?
The piece ends:
At the end of our interview, Coles [vicar of St Thomas’s Church in Finsbury Park] asks what is, I think, the most pertinent question of all for the church and for the parents who use the church to get into certain schools: “Why wouldn’t you want your children educated with the children of your neighbours? How else are children going to learn the most important lessons of all, about tolerance and understanding?“.
Yeah, why can’t those sheltered middle-class kids open their horizons to, for example, having their heads kicked in because they’re interested in studying? After all, the most important lesson any future Guardian reader can learn is to “tolerate” and “understand” thuggery.
The real “snobbery and racism” here—don’t you just love the line about “a black kid in a hoodie”?—is the pervasive underlying assumption that poor or immigrant mean “nonacademic”, though perhaps after a few more years of ideological vandalism this prejudice will be fully grounded in fact.