There's a bit of a debate going on at the moment, much of it in the pages of The Times, as to whether it's acceptable for parents to pretend to be religious in order to get their children into faith schools. Earlier this month the newspaper reported that the Catholic Church in Britain had seen a dramatic rise in baptisms of children of school-going age – a phenomenon that has been dubbed the "Year-Five Epiphany".
Conservative leader David Cameron yesterday defended such parents, saying “I think it’s good for parents who want the best for their kids. I don’t blame anyone who tries to get their children into a good school. Most people are doing so because it has an ethos and culture. I believe in active citizens.”
The issue was discussed on last night's Newsnight, which posed the question: "All parents want to ensure they are getting the best education they can for their children, but is lying about your faith a step too far? And is David Cameron right to condone it?"
And now, in today's Times, "God correspondent for The Oldie magazine") smugly compares herself to the "Prodigal son's older brother" as she bemoans how opportunistic parents are invading her Catholic religion in order to get their children into decent schools: "Lots of prodigals [are] returning to the fold these days, and miraculously it's always when they have children. I've lost count of the Catholics I know who were ostentatiously anti-clerical a few years ago but who have rediscovered the charm of Mass attendance once they have children and find that baptism and churchgoing are pre-requisites for a church school."
What does she expect? If the government of a broadly secular country continues to hand the education system over to religious organisations, of course parents are going to do all it takes to get their children in to the best schools. It's not as if any of these people actually want to sit through two hours of tedium every Sunday, it's just that they don't have any real choice. My parents had to do it to me and, while it meant the quality of my childhood Sundays were dramatically reduced, I ended up working for this publication, so it clearly didn't convert me. I'm not sure any of this makes it right, but given the current situation it's bound to happen.
That's my view anyway. I'll throw Newsnight's question out to the readers: Is pretending to be religious to get your child into a good school a step too far? Have your say by commenting on this blog post and voting in the opinion poll at the top right of this page.