What are the right steps to take if you come up against opposition to your Christian faith at your child’s school? Steve Beegoo shares how to raise your concerns successfully as a parent.
Here at Christian Concern, we often find that parents are unsure as to what can be done when they have issues with practices at their child’s school which are in conflict with their Christian faith. There are specific policies and procedures for bullying or safeguarding issues which will be available on the school website. You should familiarise yourself with these, should they be your issues. At any point you can activate the complaints policy, which should also be on the school’s website.
Here, we share some further, more detailed advice on how to handle other issues which might arise, such as if you are concerned about the promotion of LGBT ideology.
1. Try to process your issue in the least confrontational way
Teachers and leaders in schools, by and large, want to support and understand you and your child. As a first step, don’t write long emails to the school, addressing the highest authority you can, if you want to work relationally and productively with the school. Start with your child’s teacher or tutor and ask to have a personal chat, an online face-to-face conversation, or a telephone conversation, where tone can be moderated and body language can be read. If you have to email, make it short to agree a time to meet or telephone. Do this the first time you have a concern, and do not wait for several issues to arise which results in a backlog of issues. In the process, do listen carefully to the school staff. Your own perception or understanding may be wrong. Your child’s perception may also be wrong, and it is important to be aware that you are highly likely to be predisposed to believe the totality of what your child says.
Try not to come to conclusions about attitudes or motivations, until you have spoken with the right member of staff at the school and established the facts. In all your communications, pray. Pray that your own attitude will not be aggressive or too defensive, but constructive. And pray for the staff members you will speak to. The enemy delights in quarrelling and discord – do not allow him to get a foothold in your relationship with teachers or other staff at the school, especially over a potential misunderstanding, or over something which can be rectified easily through having the right conversation.
As conversations develop, accept and offer any apologies necessary, in a humble spirit. Teachers and school leaders are human beings, with a lot of responsibility and pressure. They will inevitably make mistakes – recognising this can help your relationship with them in the long term while your children are at the school. Most parents find that issues can be quickly and easily resolved at this stage, through humility, wisdom and prayer, and don’t need to take things any further.
2. Know your rights and know the law
You may need to take things further, however. Before engaging additionally with the school, it is extremely helpful to know what the law says on the matters in view. Christian Concern can support you to know the latest legal circumstances and it is important to recognise that your school may not even be fully appraised as to what the law actually says, as compared to what they think it to be.
For example, in regards to RSE, if the school has not yet adopted RSE, opt-outs should be available to you for any morally sensitive issues which are not a mandatory part of the national curriculum, whereas if they have already adopted the new regulations, then opt-outs for relationships education are not available (although they are still available for anything which you feel could be described as sex education). In addition, the schools themselves may not be aware that LGBT elements need not be taught at the primary level, but if the school has already properly consulted then they have the right to introduce these elements without a right of opt-out.
If you wish to safeguard your rights, it is useful for you to understand that the law requires schools to respect the manner in which parents wish to raise their children, so that it is in accordance with their own religious and philosophical convictions. The amount of deference shown parents is not absolute and is determined on a case-by-case basis, so take every opportunity to resolve the situation informally.
3. Taking things further
So, you have engaged step 1 and now know the law and your rights. Having tried to handle issues as peaceably as possible, where the result remains unsatisfactory, you should then escalate to the next person responsible. This escalation may be a department head or senior manager. You should ask the school office who to address concerns to, so as to prepare them for your communication. In this period of time, they are likely to investigate what is happening, informally interview staff referenced, and may deal with the issue concerned well. Additionally, don’t underestimate the power of a physical letter, ‘for the attention of the headteacher’- this often carries more weight than an email.
If you still feel you are being welcomed into a dialogue and process, but feel they are not taking you seriously enough then you should allude in your communications that you are wondering about carrying out something specific from section 4 (activating the complaints policy). Sometimes this can speed up getting to speak to the right person, especially the busy headteacher, and can still promote coming to a resolution with as little tension as possible in a ‘informal’ way. Suggesting, that you may wish to inform the DfE, Ofsted or ISI (the relevant inspectorate for independent schools), often gets a Headteacher’s attention as, should you do this, it is likely to speed up the date of their next inspection, and your information will provide ‘evidence papers’ which will be considered as part of that inspection! This matters significantly to any Headteacher.
Hopefully, this will bring the issue to some sort of agreed resolution, but you can escalate again if necessary, taking it to a formal stage. Even if you do come to a resolution, ask for evidence that agreed actions have been carried out. It will help the process for you to monitor in this way.
4. Pressing the complaints buttons
At any point you can make a formal written complaint, which must be handled by the school according to its mandatory complaints policy. This is recommended if the school repeatedly does not address concerns raised. The complaints policy should always be present on the school website, and will tell you precisely what you should do to activate this and the timescales of actions. You can ask Christian Concern for support with this, especially should there be the potential to reference laws which may have been broken.
This is likely to then result in the informing of governors, and planned formal meetings which have to occur in strict timescales which you can monitor. The fact you have made a formal complaint goes on the school’s formal records and has to be reported to inspectors and any multi-academy trust or broader board. In these formal meetings it is sensible to take someone else along with you for moral support, and if the complaints policy does not state this provision then you should politely request permission to do so. This is a Matthew 18:16 approach, where you provide yourself with moral support and a further witness.
You may also wish to write to the governors directly to express your concerns, and ask that specific governors who have responsibility for, say, pupil welfare, parental engagement or religious faith, are informed. The headteacher is responsible to the governors for the activities of the school. Even at this stage, you can be prayerfully seeking a positive resolution. This process may be necessary for a significant positive change to occur in the school culture, and not just a resolution for your own specific issue.
If a school wide issue is at stake, involving other parents in writing their own formal complaint can also stir a cultural change in the school – schools need to deal with each parent separately and confidentially, so this is not something to write a ‘joint’ complaint about. Do keep your own records and accounts of meetings as best you can. If you ask to have the meeting audio recorded, this can give you some greater potential for being taken seriously, but may add tension, as clearly this recording could be used as evidence later, and the request suggests an intention to take things even further. At the end of the formal complaints process you should be informed in detail of decisions and actions in writing.
5. The final straw
Should a school continue to be unresponsive, unreasonable or potentially discriminatory, then legal action should be considered. Even the threat of this can produce very quick results. If you, with our support, are able to recognise that the law may be being broken by the actions of a school (for example in regard to illegal indoctrination counter to your religious beliefs), then you may have been able to include this in your concerns in earlier communications. You can contact Christian Concern for legal support and advice at any stage if you wish to quote your specific legal rights as an informal or formal complainant in any letters or verbal communications. Christian Concern can also help you write letters to the governors and headteacher.
It may be that you have a legal case against the school. Legal support and advice is essential at this stage, and sometimes such cases can lead to not just change in an individual school, but in the law itself. Although challenging, your case may become a test case for an important issue. This clearly requires a lot of prayer and the support of others around you.
A Godly approach
Jesus doesn’t lead us into an attitude of repeated unjustified accusation or a seeking of revenge. There is no mandate to ‘Get even!’ or ‘Strike back!’. He asks his servants to seek resolution and reconciliation wherever possible. The Matthew 5:5 ‘meekness’ means putting aside your self-justification long enough to express yourself respectfully and factually, and to open yourself to others’ perspective. However, sometimes there is need for more of a battle.
Our children are so precious, and we steward them for the Lord. In these times it is essential to recognise that even though ‘people’ may seem to be against you, the real battle is “not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers of this dark world” (Eph 6:12). Prayer, praise, fasting and receiving the support of others, helps us to recognise that such battles “belong to the Lord” (1 Sam 17:47).