‘I had no choice but to pretend to be a believer to get my kid into the Catholic school’

One parent explains that he felt he had no choice but to game the admissions system by pretending to be a God-fearing Christian

I look around the room and I would say that nine out of the 10 couples are here for the same reason. It’s not for the candle, the white garment, the passport into the Christian family. It’s not for God. We all want our child baptised for one reason, and one reason alone: the only decent school in our area is a Catholic one.

I always hoped I would be stronger. I would send my child to the local comprehensive school regardless of its Ofsted rating, its reputation in the community, or the number of alumni currently housed at Her Majesty’s pleasure. It was important for my children to experience “real” life. They would have to sink or swim at some point in their lives. Why not aged 11?

And then I had children. I knew they would change me in many ways but I didn’t think it would be politically, morally and ethically. When it comes to schools, they have changed all three.

I look at my local comprehensive school and I know I can’t inflict that on my children. Its results are appalling, its last Ofsted report was frightening and its presence in the local news is embarrassingly recurrent for all the wrong reasons.

I could send my children to it regardless, as I always said I would. But why should they suffer a poor school because I want to make a point?

And so I find I begin to play the same game my own parents did 20 years ago. I look at the local Catholic school, the one I went to, the one where the results are fantastic, the Ofsted report is glowing and the facilities are exceptional. And I make a choice that results in my wife and I sitting on a church pew at 6pm on a Thursday evening. Baptise my son, Lord, and save him from a poor school.

Do I feel guilty? It’s both an abuse of the faith of those who truly believe and a betrayal of my local school. Of course I feel guilty. But not guilty enough to do anything different. And as I said at the start, I am not the only one.

Parents who care about their children play the system in numerous ways; a fleeting finding of religion is only one way to manipulate the system. People move house into a certain catchment area, some buy a bedsit above the corner shop outside the gates of their chosen school, others bring in a tutor to coach their kid through entrance exams, some opt to go private…

And schools play the system, too. Anyone who has had to drop their child off at a Saturday entrance exam or had to fork out hundreds of pounds on a specific school uniform from a specific high-priced shop can tell you that.

So judge me by all means – I expect it. I deserve it. But in my shoes, what would you do? If you believe you would do the opposite, tell me, have you done it for you or for your child?

Martin Smith is a pseudonym

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