ETCETERA / Home Thoughts

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I HAVE been filling in a variety of application forms this week for my son to go to infant school in September. These are not forms for private schools - apparently those should have been done before he was born, if I'd had the money or the inclination - but local state schools. One form, to be completed in triplicate, was for our nearest school, about two streets away. It arrived with a politely cautionary letter, saying that the school was likely to be oversubscribed; places would therefore be offered to children who met certain criteria.

I scanned the list with diminishing hope. My son does live in the catchment area, but he does not, as far as I know, have any special educational or medical needs. Nor does he have parents working at the school. It seems far too late to retrain as a teacher, or become a dinner-lady, and I can't think of any other cunning ploys.

This form, however, was simple compared to those for a nearby Church of England school. One was supposed to be completed by a local priest, revealing how often we went to church; how involved we were inparish activities; and when our church-going had started. I left the form blank, feeling guilty.

It wasn't like this when I was a child. I went to a church school, and there weren't any admission forms. We sang hymns every morning ('Onward Christian Sol-ol-ol- diers, marching on to war . . .'), and sometimes in the afternoon we sang 'Hearts of oak have our men, jolly tars are our boys.' In my second year we collected frog spawn. Mr Hood also taught us how to make a Roman villa in a shoe box, long division, multiplication, and the Old Testament.

It was just the sort of education I'd like my son to have. I tried to explain this on the application form, but it was difficult. It was even more difficult to explain his complicated religious background. My father has become Jewish again after years of socialist atheism, and is appalled that we don't take his grandson to synagogue. My father's father, who died last year, was a born-again Christian. He joined an organisation called Jews for Jesus at the age of 90. Better late than never, he said. My mother's family is mainly Anglican, but has a sprinkling of Catholics, including a 16th-century saint. She went to a convent school and wanted to be a nun, but married my father instead.

My own church-going was intermittent, despite a flurry of activity when I was seven and my friend Helen took me to the Christadelphian church. I think she got chocolates in return for converts. (Her father was an Oxford physicist who believed, like all good Christadelphians, that the world was made in seven days.)

I suppose it's just as well there wasn't room to put all that stuff on my son's school application form. That would probably have wrecked his chances forever. -

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