We are on the cusp of summer. Tender leaves are unfurling on the trees, joyfully compelled by the spring sunshine. I let the children scamper happily ahead on the way to school. We prefer to take the long way, which is a path by the brook, filled with bluebells and birdsong. It is for this that we forsook the big city. We wanted the children’s childhood to be simple, peaceful and filled with nature.
Our village school is magical. Indeed, it was the school that first drew us to this part of the Isle of Wight. When we went to view the school, there was nobody there – because the entire school was having lessons on the beach. That sold it straight away!
Another thing that sold it on a subsequent visit was seeing how kind the older children were to the smaller kids. There was a strong feeling that this was a kind, secure place, where great value was placed on looking after one another.
You take schools for granted until you become a parent. Then, with your first child, you see how sensitive they are to environments like childcare or crèches, and you realise that the much more challenging environment of school is coming soon. A school is like a third parent to your child. It will have a profound influence on who they become. Children will spend perhaps as much of their waking lives in school as with their parents – more in some cases.
Some parents become neurotic about academic rigour, stressing children out with too much pressure and extra-curricular activities. Academics are important, but the ethos of a school, and the values it inculcates, are even more so. Fret about academics in secondary, as the Leaving Cert or A-Levels loom. At primary level, forming their characters, their emotional intelligence and their idea of what is good, that is the vital task. For many parents, including ourselves, a school with a Christian ethos is a vital aspect of that journey.
I can only look in amazement at the media-led campaign underway in Ireland to obliterate Christian ethos in primary schools.
Here in England, which is far more secular country, with a much smaller percentage of practicing Christians, of whatever stripe, a Christian ethos is appreciated and respected, even by parents of no faith.
The quid pro quo is that even faith schools have a very inclusive ethos, which respects those of all faiths and none. Yet that is also true of Irish Catholic schools, which are so routinely maligned.
In England, there is even a statutory obligation for all state schools – including non-denominational schools – to have daily act of collective worship – yet this is not complained of.
Those stoking the flames of anti-Catholicism in Ireland imagine themselves liberal, tolerant, multiculturalists. Yet they seek to impose uniformity. They seek to deprive people different to them of the right to send their children to schools that reflect their beliefs.
They would also imagine themselves as the protectors of refugees, yet in creating a climate of hostility to a particular faith, they have more in common with the persecutors than the persecuted.
Will we move back to Ireland some day? In deciding, one question must now be: do we want our children to grow up in a culture where their faith is subjected to ridicule and hatred?
Perhaps Ireland’s illiberal ‘liberals’ are already creating refugees.