Writing this because it's too long to Tweet.
In my long ago childhood, I attended two faith schools. One from 5-11, and one from 11-18. I could write about their flaws, but overall, they were good schools, with some excellent and many good enough teachers, and gave me a very good academic education.
I think it was wrong for my parents to send me to these schools, for several reasons.
They were not my nearest schools. Other children living nearby went to maintained Primary schools and, generally, one of the Sale Grammar schools. My friends at school did not live near me. While it's possible to maintain separate friendship groups in school and out, it takes effort, mainly from the parents. Why would a Sale Grammar girl want to hang round with me rather than her other Sale Grammar friends living just a few roads away? And at the age of 12 or 13, how reasonable is it to hang out with school friends living in Warrington or central Manchester?
By choosing different schools from the very good local ones, weren't my parents sending a message to our neighbours 'your schools aren't good enough for my child' and implying 'your children who go those schools aren't good enough for my children'?
I had to get the bus, even to Primary School. This meant I couldn't hang out with my classmates or dawdle home on summer's evenings. Because of logistics, my bus contingent had to sit around in the school hall for half an hour or more (missing most of children's TV, in the days before videos).
Although I grew up in Sale, I went to school in Altrincham. Yes, the two towns are joined at the hip, like Romulus and Remus, Brighton & Hove, or Ant & Dec, but they are different towns. One is M33, the other is WA14. I think I can still walk around Altrincham while reading a book, but I have no muscle memory of Sale. Where am I from?
My parents were not particularly well off, but neither were they poor. I think they were probably typical of most people living in our immediate area. Decent but modest salaries, reduced to a level just above struggling by the cost of children, running one modest car, rarely replaced. Altrincham contains some very rich areas - I read only a few years back that the Altrincham & Sale constituency was in the top ten most prosperous out of 650.
Despite going to a faith school with a strong positive ethos of fairness, equality etc - the wishy-washy quasi-socialist aspect of liberal Roman Catholicism (of which I approve, and is an important part of who I am) - the prevailing culture of the school community was conspicuous materialistic consumption.
When your classmates have cottages in Wales, holidays in the South of France, several cars, often Jaguars, renewed every couple of years, and clothes from Benetton, it warps your perception. I was avaricious and resentful. Goodness knows how the very small number of girls on free school meals or in jobless households felt.
I think it warped my ambitions to an extent that I was determined to follow a career that paid a high salary rather than one that fulfilled me personally - and, to an extent, that's where I am. My salary is well above the London median, and I could have followed a career path into a six-figure salary; thankfully I chose not to. I frequently get some personal fulfilment from work, and appreciate the money/time to pursue other interests.
I could be disparaging about the ideological religious agenda of Catholic Schools - for example, we had a visiting speaker from SPUC, the militant anti-choice pressure group. However, I am pretty certain it backfired. Because we had been taught to think and challenge, and because of the liberal feminist ethos that was quite advanced for Thatcher's Eighties, most of the bright girls, the opinion leaders, were angry at the propaganda and brainwashing, and inspired to form cogent arguments to defend a woman's right to choose.
But I think the lasting damage of going to a 'faith' school was the lack of community. When you're a child your geographical horizons are narrow, and it's difficult to build solid lasting friendships with people who live across the A56, or in another county. Selective 11+ schools divide a community; religious apartheid adds to this.
The prosperous Irish diaspora dominated the culture and there were relatively few real Mancs or Cestrians. If you weren't Irish enough there was a slight hint of being a lesser person! I grew up thinking that everybody was Catholic or Protestant, and white, except for the one friend who was Muslim, with prosperous Pakistani parents (and whose companionship did open my eyes).
I'm not sure the non-faith schools in the area at that time were more ethnically varied, but I would have learnt not to categorise people by which church they go to, because most don't. I would have seen it's possible to be a normal decent person who judges the difference between actual right and actual wrong on how it affects other people, rather than being a nasty person who follows The Rules.
This is not a criticism of the schools I attended, and perhaps it reflects on the passive, over-protective, anti-social attitude of my parents, who saw no need to mix with non-Catholics (except Grandad!) or to pursue structured or unstructured social activities outside of school and church (and then, barely).
I'm sure more enlightened parents, then and now, who choose faith schools also ensure their children take part in sporting or cultural groups outside the narrow faith community, and will organise playdates and encourage hanging out with friends from different social circles. Interestingly, my partner who grew up in south London, and whose parents had no interest in academic achievement, also insisted on the Catholic apartheid system they brought with them from Ireland, and he too suffered the no-friends-locally/long-journey-to-school syndrome, and neither of us is able to maintain deep friendships (although superficially we are both quite gregarious and 'friendly').
I don't criticise anyone who chooses to send their child to a faith school because they can select (by parental attitude); but I have observed too many schools whose self-proclaimed 'Christian ethos' is a complacent assumption that bad things such as bullying don't happen.
There is a problem when a parent's desire for a 'faith' school sends out a message of inherent superiority. It's also a problem when many children are driven or bussed to their faith schools, when too young to understand or decide whether they have a religious faith, and many others are driven away rejected by their local taxpayer funded school because of their parents' non-attendance at church.
It was often church schools that introduced education to poor areas, but that was 150 years ago! That doesn't make it necessary to fund such schools now - although, frankly, abolishing them would be a policy, legal and administrative nightmare, so it's no surprise no government has tried. I find it preposterous when certain people attempt to explain the special status of Church schools by 'but the parents raise funds for them' - almost as if that doesn't happen in (supposedly) non-religious schools.
The irony of parents fighting to send their children to specialist christian schools is that every school in England that isn't a specialist Christian school is by default and by law a Church of England school. Of course, this law is honoured more in the breach than the observance, but the time has long passed where Catholic parents (often of Irish ethnicity) demand special schools to keep their children away from the quasi-paganistic practices and beliefs of a state-sponsored Protestant school. I'm sure if such an arrangement happened in a foreign (not former British Empire) country, we'd laugh and call it an archaic and probably corrupt foreign peculiarity. But in England, it's the norm.