Education Quandary

'Our daughter goes to a non-church village primary, where they pray three times a day. We love the school, but feel uneasy about this. What can we do? And do we have any rights?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's Advice

Hilary's Advice

If this was a church school, and you had dusted off your Sunday best and sat - hypocritically - in a prominent pew every week in order to get your child into a school whose religion you couldn't stand, but whose academic results and caring ethos you wanted to grab a piece of, then the only possible advice would be to put up and shut up.

But most ordinary primary schools don't expect children to pray three times a day, and many would be acutely sensitive to just how many families' toes they would be stepping on if they did.

What the law in this area says is that maintained schools are supposed to have an act of daily collective worship which should be "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character". But that doesn't mean praying three times a day, nor does it preclude schools from drawing on the traditions of other faiths.

If this is just one particular religious zealot who is using his or her classroom in the school to indoctrinate pupils, you should tell the school head about your unease - and be thankful that the end of the school year is nigh and your daughter will be moving up to a new class in September. If it's a whole-school policy, there are very likely other parents who feel as you do. You need to find out who they are, then take your concerns to the head, and to the governors. Make sure you know the law, and point out to the school that under it you can, if you wish, withdraw your child wholly or partly from acts of worship - and that this would be very disruptive several times a day.

At the same time, explain to your daughter that, although some people believe in the Christian story, other people believe in different things. Even if she's still very little, tell her what you believe, and how you feel about the prayers she has to say at school - children can always understand much more than we think.

If you feel very strongly, you can insist she absents herself at prayer-time, but she would probably hate you for doing that. Instead, tell her she doesn't have to say the words if she doesn't want to, and if she really feels she has to chant along, she can always cross her fingers as she does so!

Readers' Advice

Our local village school is a Church of England primary where Christian assemblies and prayers are on the timetable. My husband is a lapsed Catholic, and I'm a Buddhist. We always talked to our children about the differences between what we believed and the school's message, but we also pointed out how many things in that message - kindness, caring, forgiveness - are shared by all religions. As a result, they have all grown up into well-balanced agnostics.

Sophia Barcolm, Northumberland

You should be thankful she is in such a school. Schools that give their children no moral or ethical guidance let them down badly. There is much more to life than exam results and the national curriculum. All children need a sense of the spiritual to grow into full human beings, and we fail them utterly when we do not help them to develop it.

Richard Green, Bristol

What is the problem here? Talk to your child about the praying as you would about any other issue in the school that you found offensive. We had one teacher who often picked on children she didn't like, but we made it clear to our daughter what we thought of such behaviour, and how it wasn't anything we approved of.

Jane Jowett, Oxfordshire

Next week's quandary

I love teaching, but I am crawling towards the end of term in a state of total exhaustion, and know it will take almost all summer before I feel human again. Is there any way to do this job without feeling a wreck at the end of the school year? Or should I just give it up and do something else?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 12 July, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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