North London, where I live, has many so-called ‘faith’ schools. Anything called Saint this or Bishop that; Cardinal thingummy or Blessed whatsit is a church school. Although I have visited Jewish schools and know of Sikh and Moslem schools, I have never worked in them. I have worked in 52 different secondary (ages 11-18) schools in London as a supply teacher (‘substitute’ teacher in the US). Some were state schools and some were run by churches. This piece is actually in response to a letter writer in a newspaper in Trinidad. The schools there appear to be hotbeds of gangsterism, drug dealing and promiscuity, so much so that the Prime Minister of that Caribbean island told the parents that they are breeding ‘monsters’! Then the smug arrogant Christian letter writer said that such things could never happen in a church school! Little does he know.
In my first Anglican school, the Head teacher had just been sacked for stealing the furniture. When the Bishop came to visit ‘his’ school during my first week there, all the boys and girls were assembled in the hall to hear him speak, but they wouldn’t stop talking! The new acting head and various teachers tried to shut them up but without success. When the Bishop delivered his talk it was inaudible, so he cut it short. Worse was to come – refreshments were laid out in the foyer next to the hall for the Bishop, the school staff and governors to enjoy. When the pupils left the hall they raided the buffet and ran off with everything, shouting and laughing. I saw one older boy tuck a large bottle of Coca Cola under his blazer and run off at high speed.
There was violence and sexual abuse in this church school too. The local Church of England vicar used to come in once a week to teach religious studies, until he got so angry with one obstreperous boy that he hit him; with the result that the vicar was banned from entering school premises again. During lesson time 15 year old boys used, sometimes, to wait in ambush in the girls’ toilets with the intention of sexually molesting girls who came through the door.
At my first Catholic school, I was asked by a 13 year old girl if I was a Catholic. When I replied that I was not, she informed me that she wasn’t going to stay in my lesson because her parents had chosen for her to be taught by Catholics in a Catholic school. I sent a messenger to fetch the Head teacher, who took her side and let her work in his office!
The deputy head in another RC school had a unique way of interrupting my lessons with messages or notes. He would burst in through the door and shout “Hail Mary!” at the top of his voice. Instantly every child would drop their pens and jump to their feet intoning the rest of the prayer with him. What a clever trick! I had to admire his cynical showmanship, even though he was blatantly using religion to cosh kids on the head with.
A notice advertising a teachers’ meeting was on the staff room notice board. It said “If a child turned up in your class room who couldn’t speak English, what would you do?” An excellent topic for teachers to have a meeting on and get some guidance about. The unprofessional, racist scrawl that a member of staff had added to this poster shocked me deeply. It said simply: “Send it back”. Such a nasty unsympathetic view. This was in a Catholic school. I waited to see what would happen. In a state comprehensive school there is a kind of secular child-centred moral code. It is known as professionalism. The graffiti would not have been written in the first place. The poster would be removed immediately and steps put in train to find out who had done it, The repercussions could be severe. After 5 days it was time for me to leave. It was clear that Catholic teachers lived by their own Christian ethos and not by any professional code. I crossed out the graffiti as I left and informed a senior teacher what I had done.
The next day I was in a Seventh Day Adventist school, since closed down as being ‘not fit for purpose’. It was a drab building, full of dark low-ceilinged corridors all painted dark grey. No pictures graced the walls, no pupils’ work was on display. Most odd! The only music I heard during my week there was religious. Even when girls sang at break time and lunch time, as girls everywhere often do, I only heard them singing hymns. It was like they just didn’t know any other kinds of music.
As a temporary biology teacher I was told that under no circumstances must I mention the topic of evolution, and if any pupil finished their written work early they were to be given a printed list of bible quotations to copy out. The most shocking thing though came at lunch time one day when it was too wet for the children to go and play in the yard so they were milling around in the submarine-like corridors instead. You know kids – they can be noisy, and that’s OK. However the view of at least one SDA teacher in that staff room was “Listen to that noise: that’s the devil out there!” Her colleague nodded sagely. In my view those 2 women were not fit to be teachers.
This is my personal blog and it is my views that I am expressing. The true events revealed here are of events that occurred some years ago. All the children will have left school by now, and most of the staff I am writing about will have moved on too. As I remember more incidents I will return to post 556 and add to it.
Would I ever send my children to a church school? Not bloody likely!