Like most primary schools this time each year, thoughts turn to the Nativity play and the various stresses surrounding it. These include organising dozens of sheep, shepherds and angels, getting all the lines learnt and of course, deciding who’s going to play Mary.
At Catholic schools, the Nativity play is understandably a really important part of their year, but with over 60% of the pupils at St Mary’s and St Peter’s Catholic Primary school in Bradford being Muslim, you might think including everyone in this festival is a challenge. For them however, the truth is it simply isn’t.
Last year the school had children from different faiths and nationalities take part in their Nativity and this Christmas it will be no different.
By including children and families of different faiths, the school believes that they are not imposing Catholicism on them, but are sharing the gift of faith. At St Mary’s and St Peter’s , non-Catholic children are never forced to make the sign of the cross and when they pray it is made clear that children can pray to their own God.
Julie Holland, Head teacher at St Peter and St Mary’s believes that clarity with parents is by far and away the most important element of getting parental buy-in to the school’s ethos. Before children even start she sits down with prospective parents and is crystal clear about how the Catholic faith is fundamental to everything that is done by the school.
Julie commented: “For the vast majority of non-Catholic parents, this is perfectly acceptable, moreover it is the emphasis that we put on faith which makes our school such an attractive option for their child. Many think that to create religious tolerance you must remove it completely from the public sphere, but if anything we show that by being open about your own faith, parents of different religious convictions feel that their faith is respected. You don’t create religious tolerance by saying faith is something that should be kept behind closed doors.”
Julie believes that for a lot of parents, the popularity of a Catholic education among non-Catholic parents goes down to key basic principles, including, respect and good behaviour, attitudes which she considers are promoted by all religions. The values and expectations we set continue when the children are at home.
But what is the impact on the children? Looking at the experience of St Mary’s and St Peter’s, it is extremely positive. From an early age children interact with others of different religions. What’s more the school has fostered an atmosphere where children feel comfortable talking about religion and discussing the big questions about God and human dignity with those of other beliefs.
Julie concluded: “This year proud Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh parents will watch their child celebrate the birth of Christ in our Nativity. For both parents and pupils alike, this religious diversity is normal, something which I am proud to say has been achieved through an unapologetically Catholic education.”