In an episode of the brilliant sitcom Outnumbered, one parent says to another, during a discussion about school places: "Did you lie about your religion or lie about where you lived?"
Returning to London, Victoria and I have been amazed at the shenanigans indulged in by middle-class white liberal parents when it comes to schools.
Unless you are a money-lender, lawyer, doctor, have rich parents, or have done well out of London property, you're going to be in the state system. That is good. But these parents will stop at nothing to get their children into one of a handful of London's old-fashioned, single-sex Christian state schools. Former progressive atheist liberals, who've declaimed against religion all their lives, and greedily devoured the works of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, suddenly find God. They also suddenly get traditional. Having publicly railed against Mr Gove, and proclaimed themselves to be progressives in matters of education, they privately plump for the most Gradgrindian school they can find.
In London, God has all the best schools. But to get into one of these schools, you have to prove you are a good Christian, and so it is that the atheists get all hypocritical. They become church deacons and go to church every Sunday, not because they genuinely believe in God, but to be seen to be doing what used to be called "good works".
When their children do find a place at the favoured Christian school, they lose their interest in God, get back on their liberal high horses and continue to rail against Mr Gove and his efforts to teach grammar to children.
The Hodgkinson family is the reverse. The children's mother is a real, living, breathing Catholic. All the children have been baptised and have received their first Holy Communion. However, we stopped going to our local church for three years because Victoria fell out with the priest. As a result, the nuns at the church refused to give any references as to the Catholic upbringing of our children. Therefore we have no chance of getting the children into the Catholic London Oratory, Sacred Heart or Cardinal Vaughan, all favoured by the liberal middle classes.
And unlike my friends, I have praised Mr Gove's efforts to reintroduce traditional academic teaching common to the everyday comps of the country.
Unlike the white liberals, our daughter goes to the local comp. This is a fantastic school called Burlington Danes. It serves the poor of White City, west London: something like 70 per cent of the children there are on free school meals, and less than 20 per cent are white English. Our daughter says some of her classmates were amazed she lived in a house with stairs.
Burlington Danes is rated outstanding by Ofsted and has been highly praised by Mr Gove and Mr Cameron. In fact, we had assumed that Mr Gove would send his own daughter there, since he likes it so much and lives about three seconds' walk away. But Mr Gove's daughter will be going to Grey Coat Hospital in Westminster. While this very good single-sex school is indeed a comprehensive, it behaves like a grammar school, is fiendishly difficult to get a place at, and is a well-known destination for pushy middle-class parents prepared to weed the church garden every Sunday for six years.
To get their daughter in to Grey Coat, the Gove parents might well have had to take a central role in Sunday School for some years. Now, Mr Gove is decidedly a Christian so we cannot accuse him of hypocrisy. As to the religious views of his wife Sarah Vine, I cannot speculate, though I do know she once penned the line: "I am fortunate enough to live in a wealthy, secular country" for The Spectator.
Weirdly, the truly religious can suffer, such is the assiduity of the white church-going liberal classes. One west London vicar tells us the atheist liberals put more work into their church-going than the genuinely Christian, who may miss the odd Sunday because of illness in the family or similar. Because the middle-class hypocrites have ticked all the boxes, they are given preference for school places by the religious schools.
All of which leaves me feeling confused. Is it really OK to lie about your religion in order to get your children into better schools?
Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'
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