Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Funeral held at Leicestershire school while lessons in progress

There has been a lot of clamour against church schools in Lib Dem circles - see the recent discussion on Lib Dem Voice in particular.

I am not usually one to worry about such schools unduly. The idea that the average Church of England primary school is engaged in a dangerous programme of religious indoctrination seems daft to me. And I am inclined to think that critics of church schools should ask themselves why they are often so much more popular than the council-run alternatives.

All that said, this story from today's Leicester Mercury strikes me as barking mad:

A head teacher today defended a decision to hold a funeral in her school while children were in lessons.

A service at the Samworth Enterprise Academy on Friday is believed to be the first time a funeral in England has been held in a school.

Some parents said it was upsetting for children to see the funeral while others said they believed it was "undignified" for the grieving family.

However, principal Pat Dubas said bosses at the Saffron Lane academy had decided to incorporate a fully-functioning Anglican church in the school building and that meant it could not "pick and choose" which services to offer.

The church and school share the main entrance but a door allows access to St Christopher's without visitors entering the school reception.

Nigel Smith, whose nine-year-old son, Ashley, attends the school, and who is related to the deceased's family, said: "Funerals do not have a place in schools, it's disgusting.

"We knew the church was there when the school was built but we thought it would be for educational purposes ..."

The academy, which is backed by the Church of England and Leicester businessman David Samworth, opened in September and St Christopher's Parish Church relocated to a section of the building. The academy takes pupils from three to 12 years and will eventually include 16-year-olds, with the roll set to reach 1,050 pupils by 2011.

The Samworth Enterprise Academy is not a church school in the conventional. but one of the government's new academies. And these do tend to attract Evangelical Christian businessmen - a breed I always find rather creepy. What the Church of England thinks it is doing getting involved in such a set up, I cannot begin to understand.

But do think carefully before you call for the the disestablishment of the C of E. It is the only thing that keeps the happy clappy brigade in check. America has no established church, but religion is infinitely more influential there than here.


Anonymous said...

Incredible that they did not anticipate this problem at the design stage. No, not incredible, typical!

Anonymous said...

I suspect this was anticipated at the design stage, funerals being a fairly staple part of the average week for any C of E church. I also expect nobody thought it was big deal. Nor do I.

One must assume that the deceased and their immediate family approved of the venue in order to have organised for the funeral to take place there. I think it is probably for them to decide what is or is not "undignified".

While I'm sorry that some children may have been upset by this event, I rather think that it would be more likely to inspire curiosity. I suspect the children were not present at the service and probably only know about it if someone has told them it was happening. Even so what is wrong with children having some experience of the processes surrounding death. Death after all is a fairly inevitable part of life and children are bombarded with fantastical imagery about death through television, gaming etc. almost daily. I think this is an important educational experience for them. One that they are lucky to have.

I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. What is it exactly that people think the children have been exposed to whilst sat in different part of the building having nothing whatsoever to do with what was undoubtedly a thoroughly dignified, quiet and normal event, the like of which most of the children in the school will go during childhood to at some point anyway?

Anonymous said...

A service at the Samworth Enterprise Academy on Friday is believed to be the first time a funeral in England has been held in a school.

Believed by whom? Such a belief is certainly incorrect, unless "school" excludes an awful lot of independent schools with chapels. Such as the one I went to, where funerals of old boys and others connected with the school were not at all uncommon.

As for it being "disgusting", what? Death is disgusting? Funerals are disgusting? Children should be shielded from such Nasty Things? Give me strength.

Matthew Huntbach said...

The story doesn't strike me as "barking mad", but rather as a non-story hyped up by a journalist desperate for copy.

The church I attend is directly on Lewisham High Street - when my wife and I emerged from it after our wedding, we were surrounded by gawping shoppers, when my mother-in-law's coffin was taken in and out for her funeral it was similarly surrounded by gawping shoppers. Are we really to suggest that funerals should only be held in some secretive way in order that children should be spared ever having the possibility of witnessing one?

It is an awkward part of life dealing with children coming to grips with death, but then there are many other awkward things in bringing up children that have to be dealt with. Yes, children may be upset on the first time they see a funeral, but it's something they are going to have to see some time. The complaints here really seem to be from parents finding it difficult dealing with this awkwardness.

The story might at first give the impression that the coffin was paraded through the school dining room, but looking carefully we see it is not dissimilar to what we see in many places - a school and church in close proximity to each other. I would imagine there are many church schools where classroom look onto church entrances and hence the sight of a funeral is a regular occurrence.

Jonathan Calder said...

Am I saying "funerals should only be held in some secretive way in order that children should be spared ever having the possibility of witnessing one"?

No, but I am saying it is not a good idea to house a school and a church in the same building.

Matthew Huntbach said...

The objection seems to be on the basis of the possibility of children witnessing a funeral, so, yes, if that's a problem the corollary is that we should also avoid funerals held in other circumstances - like my church on the high street - where children might witness them.

As the details of the story said, it's a church and school sharing a common entrance, and I guess a common architecture, rather than people having to traipse through the school to get to the church.

So I think I'm correct in suggesting this is a story hyped up to look more than it really is. I had actually assumed from your subject line that maybe an actual school hall had been used for a funeral during school hours, but on inspection it's less dramatic than that.

As you've noted in your "married twins" article, it's always a good idea to look at the facts behind a newspaper article rather than assume an over-dramatic headline is accurate.