Finding the balance between atheism and a C of E school

Toby has now been going to our local school for five weeks. It’s a Church of England school but my husband and I are both atheists. In just five short weeks there have already been a few tricky situations to negotiate and to be honest we are still working out how to deal with things in the best way we can.

Before I talk about that though, let me give you a little bit of background first. Last year when we were applying for Toby’s school place I wrote about our dilemma, but to give you a quick overview. In our town there are six primary schools – two are Catholic schools, two are Church of England schools, one is a private school and one is a non-church school. So as you can see we didn’t have a lot of choice. We put the non-church school as our first choice on the application. But that school is over-subscribed and we don’t live in the catchment area. Needless to say Toby didn’t get a place.

So we had a decision to make. We couldn’t afford the private school so that’s not an option. We could have appealed and tried to get in the non-church school, or we could have done what we did which was to accept the place Toby was given in the C of E school nearest our house.

It was a difficult decision to make. There are lots of positives to the school Toby is at now. It is 10 minutes walk from our house. It has good facilities and lots of great outdoor space. Three of his friends from nursery were also going to be there.

In fact the only negative is that it is a church school, and as such he is taught Christianity as fact. And as an atheist that is something I have a real problem with. But… I was raised as a Christian, as was Barry. And by the age of about 12 I decided I didn’t believe in God and I have been an atheist ever since.

I feel like I also need to mention (because it’s something that people often seem to bring up whenever I have this conversation) that I have absolutely no problem with my children being taught about Christianity and Christian values. I have no issue with them learning about Islam, and Hinduism, and Judaism, and Sikhism, and any other religion. In fact I think it’s really important that they do learn about religion.

But I find it quite difficult to know what to say when my four year old comes home from school telling me that God is a man who lives in the sky, and he made us. It’s even harder when he wakes up at 3 am needing a poo and tells me that God made him unique. That is not a conversation I am ready to have when I’ve had to get out of my nice warm bed to wipe someone else’s bum!

I spoke to a few other people who are in a similar situation about this – some just go down the nod and smile route and will let their children work it out for themselves and make their own decisions later. Others take the opportunity to talk about beliefs and that some people believe different things to others.

At the moment that is the route we are taking too. I’m finding it difficult because I don’t want to contradict and undermine his teachers. But equally if Toby comes home and tells me that God is man in the sky who made him I can’t bring myself to agree with that.

So for now we are trying to explain that that’s what some people believe, but other people believe different things. We also bought a few books to try and help us explain some of the different beliefs and present Toby with a bit more balance than he is getting from school.

Books about alternatives to Christian teachings

We’ve not looked at all the books yet – we got one about religions around the world, another about The Big Bang, one about Humanism and how to live without a god (which to be honest is probably a bit old for him so we might keep that one on the shelf for a while), and lastly a book about evolution called The Story of Life.

Toby loves dinosaurs at the moment so we have looked at the evolution book with him to start explaining how life began and where the dinosaurs come into the story. He was really interested but still hung on to the idea that god made him. I think all we can do though is keep on showing him the alternatives to what he is being taught at school. We are being careful not to talk about one idea being right and the other being wrong, but just explaining that we think something different to his teachers and hopefully he will be able to make up his own mind.

I know that he’s only four, and making up his own mind about this might take a while. We’re trying hard not to confuse him but I just can’t sit back and let him believe that Christianity is fact. I read an interesting post from Man vs. Pink the other day about how he has been talking to his daughter about Jesus and drawing parallels between him and Superman. It was a really interesting idea and one we’ll probably come back to in the future – for now though Toby doesn’t know the Superman story either so I don’t want to confuse him any more.

Anyway, apologies for the slight ramble. I find it quite hard to articulate my thoughts about this whole situation. Toby is going to church this afternoon for a Harvest service so we’ll have to see later what he brings back from that.

If you have any thoughts on how you would deal with this if you were me, or if you’re in a similar situation yourself then I’d love to hear about it in the comments. We’re just making it up as we go along at the moment so any help would be much appreciated!


This is the fifth post in my #Blogtober series. You can read the rest of the posts here.

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9 thoughts on “Finding the balance between atheism and a C of E school

    1. He’s four, he believes whatever you tell him 🙂 As I mentioned in the post we tried to get him into the only non-church school in our town but we don’t live in the catchment. The local CofE school was our only option really.

  1. We’ve had a similar time with our children and their school. I don’t mind them being taught it but not as fact. When my daughter came out with it as a fact I just said ‘Well, some people believe that, some people believe other things, and we don’t believe any of it – but it’s up to you what you want to believe’ – and that seems to have done it :).

  2. Ahh! My girls are in a C of E school and they have often came home saying things like this…I used to tell them the same as Cherry. That some people believed and some didn’t. My eldest got to about 9 years old and in assembly one dad they were on about something about God making everything and she put her hand up and asked if God made everything who made god? The person running the assembly couldn’t answer her but her teacher gave her a house point for good thinking. lol
    They get to an age where they figure things out for themselves. What they want to believe in…

  3. You know what, I wouldn’t worry about it, as long as you just tell it to him straight that this is what you believe and that is what the people at the school believe. I was raised Muslim but went to a Christian school and we sang hymns and thanks to the Lord and all that stuff, and even at a young age I knew this is what they believe and what my family believe are different, and that was that. Kids work out stuff in their head, so I’m sure yours will too xx

  4. I went to a church school and hated it. I didn’t believe any of it from about year 3 onwards and I resented having to pray. I really, really hope this doesn’t happen when it comes to getting my little girl into school because I don’t think I can do it. I’ll end up having so many arguments with the school I swear!

    I’m a fellow Lancashire blogger too by the way! *waves!*

  5. My son is at CofE school and like you I’m not a believer. However Harrison has found great comfort in the school and believing in god as he recently lost his grandad so I am only greatful to how school have helped him. Also I like the way they are taught to be kind and have manners. I think of it like the Santa thing he will believe for so long then when he knows more he will make his own mind up.

  6. I went to a religious school. A church of England primary school. We prayed in assembly, sang hymns and had a father come in to talk about God and read from the bible. I am an atheist. A few children didn’t want to sing these religious hymns, be apart of the assemblies or pray. However everyone had to. We went to church on the last day before Easter and Christmas. However now I believe that has changed and parents and children can ask to not be made to do that. Have you tried speaking the school and asking if they can do more an emphasis on explaining that other people believe different things.

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