Why school admissions can never be objective
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
I have always been a fan of church schools, and suspicious of the crass
one-size-fits-all secularism, so popular among educationalists of the Left.
None the less, in middle-class parishes like ours, with first-rate church
schools, there are always going to be those who are looking for free prep
schools. It's a real problem. "Bend the knee and save the fee" - that's what
they say round here.
Last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury argued that "this situation means
that we need some simple objective criteria, applicable across the country," (
Comment, 17 March). I'm afraid I don't agree. What I find is that it's the
pushy middle-classes that are best at figuring out the minimum requirement for
meeting simple objective criteria, whatever they are. On the other hand, there
are committed Christians who don't meet a set of criteria for a variety of
reasons. What is needed is something that used to be called "good judgement" ,
and that's precisely what nationally agreed criteria take away.
Church attendance is often used as a simple, objective-looking test. But the
truth is, I couldn't say how many times people in my congregation come to
church. We have 600-plus people worshipping in the parish on a Sunday morning,
and I'm not good with names. "Do they come at least twice a month?" asks the
form. I just don't know. Yes, we monitor who attends Sunday school. But some
prefer their children to sit in church alongside them. And I absolutely refuse
to have some sort of clocking-in device in the narthex.
The truth is that, apart from baptism, there are no simple objective
criteria for being a Christian. The church-attendance test is an irritation
because it allows schools to pretend that their criteria are simple and
objective, while they pass on to the poor clergy the task of answering the
unanswerable. Some schools make it my problem to deliver on their badly devised
It's a great shame that interviews are now increasingly distrusted. For the
least-worst way to determine the nature of a person's faith - or lack of it -
is a one-to-one meeting. Unfortunately, the call for "simple objective criteria"
is worryingly close to the secular education-speak that is premised on an
assumption that the only things in life that are real are the things that can
be measured. In a place like Putney, it will be the management-literate that
will understand how best to work the system. The danger is that it will fill my
church with frauds, and the church school with snobs.
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney, and lecturer in
philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford.