“Give me the child, and I will mould the man”, Grace Bozzino at quadrapheme.com quotes St Francis Xavier as having said. “If that’s the case,” she points out, “then parents have some fairly important questions to ask. To whom are we giving our children? What sort of men – and women –will be returned to us? And where was the trigger warning for such a misogynistic, gender-specific quotation?”
Two timeless questions there, and one hopefully ephemeral one, to open a fascinating article on how a group of English parents have grown frustrated with England’s current education system and the problems both with private and state schools. The latter sector is blighted by how “there is a big difference between the best and the rest”, which forces “a rush for the places at the best schools” which, Ms Bozzino argues, “distorts house prices, and encourages dishonesty”.
It’s an interesting observation, and one that sheds an unforgiving light on Ireland’s patronage debate: within Dublin, those few schools which are oversubscribed tend to be successful ones in well-to-do areas, so people who argue that when selection is necessary it should be dictated by how close families live to schools rather than by religion are effectively saying that access to Dublin’s most popular schools should be restricted to those wealthy enough to live nearest to them.
As creeds go, it’s hardly the most egalitarian.
Worried too by how the nebulous standard of ‘British values’ can also be deployed to find schools wanting, Ms Bozzino says that many British parents feel caught between “a state system with moving goalposts and ever more intrusive regulation” and “a private system that is financially out of reach”, such that it’s not surprising that parents have begun to take matters into their own hands.
“Small independent schools have started up in London over the last few years,” she says, with such schools typically being far less expensive than mainstream private schools while still offering excellent all-round education and allowing generous sibling discounts so parents of large families aren’t unduly punished.
Last year, she says, she and a group of her friends decided to follow suit. Recognising – as does our Constitution – that parents are their children’s primary educators and have a fundamental role to play in their children’s education, she says their ambition is to establish a primary school reflecting their educational values and aspirations, where their children can receive an excellent education rooted in their religious, national and European cultural heritage.
“Rather than being an impediment to ‘British Values’,” she says, “we believe that a strong religious identity is an aid to children’s learning, especially given their inherent curiosity, energy and optimism.”
Done badly, such privately established schools could become vehicles of social exclusion, of course, but they clearly don’t need to be. As it stands, the school is, she says, “very much a product of the ‘new economy’”, heavily reliant on online pooling of resources and social media, and costing very little.
“We’re also fortunate,” she stresses, “in that, to begin with at least, we can use a barn adjacent to the house of one of the parents as a classroom. And lastly, an order of Catholic priests has pledged spiritual support.”
Clearly this won’t cost nothing, but it might not prove prohibitive either, and it certainly is an initiative demonstrating real enterprise, courage and imagination.
One might wonder why those who take public issue with the selection policies of schools founded and owned by Ireland’s dioceses, parishes, and religious orders don’t try something like this themselves.
Ms Bozzino’s article is only typical of quadrapheme by being unlike almost anything else on the site.
Running for almost two years, it offers artistic and political comment from a broadly Christian perspective and does its best to be a forum for intelligent cultural discussion.
It’s worth exploring.