Overwhelming support for head teacher in school religion row

By staff writers
February 14, 2009

Parents and local residents have overwhelmingly backed the head teacher of a Devon school where a young child upset a classmate by telling her that she would "go to hell" if she did not believe in God.

Gary Read, head of Landscore Primary School, Threshers, in Credition, explained to the 5-year-old and her mother, school receptionist Jennie Cain, that the behaviour was unacceptable after it caused another pupil to burst into tears.

The story became local and national news after it got into the hands of the media and of campaigners who repeatedly claim Christians are being 'persecuted' in Britain when public bodies implement diversity policies.

Governors are also investigating an email sent out by Mrs Cain which reached them, but which she says is private, and contains comments they feel are misrepresenting and discrediting the school.

The local Express and Echo paper reports this morning that its readers "have inundated the paper's www.thisisexeter.co.uk with comments supporting headteacher Gary Read's actions."

Christians and a local Religious Education teacher are among those who have spoken out, saying that the school has a fine record of respecting different beliefs and values, and of trying to be decent and fair in its treatment of pupils.

RE supervisor Cindy Greenow, of Crediton, wrote: "I find it very worrying that a school can be criticised for allowing a teacher to do their job...A child frightened and upset another, they were both spoken to in an effort to resolve the situation, and it is my understanding that at no point were either of them told 'not to talk about God'."

The Telegraph and Mail newspapers are among those who have played up the incident.

Philosopher Steven Law pointed out on his website that the original Telegraph story "omits one crucial detail - that the schools objection was not to a child talking to another about God and Jesus, but to one child scaring another to tears with threats of eternal damnation - thereby putting a very different spin on the story."

Readers of the Express and Echo have also criticised the inaccuracy of that paper's headline on 13 February, when it declared: "Five-year-old girl is told off at school for talking about God."

Landscore school says this is plain wrong. They encourage pupils to talk about their beliefs and opinions, but to do so with respect for others.

Mandy Manning writes: "I am a parent of a Landscore Primary School pupil and I would like to add my support for the excellent headmaster, teaching staff and governors. The issue was one child upsetting another...".

She adds: "I would be horrified if my daughter had been told this and the teacher had not stepped in, and I am thankful she attends a school where such scare- mongering is not allowed to pass as acceptable behaviour."

Other parents and Devon residents express concern that such an issue has been whipped up in the media.

One Crediton commenter says: "For any five-year- old to make a comment about 'going to hell' is worrying and it is something Mrs Cain should take responsibility for, rather than attempting to dirty this school's good name."

Meanwhile, a Christian from Exeter comments: "As a Christian, I would be very upset if my child had told another to go to hell."

Simon Barrow from the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, who lives in Exeter, told the paper: "Teachers have a tough job trying to balance the needs of pupils from diverse backgrounds. Trying to do so is not 'political correctness', it's humanly decent and educationally necessary."

In an article on the affair (http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/8654) he adds: "[T]hose Christians who object to the school wanting to maintain a non-threatening environment should ask themselves how they would feel if a son of theirs ended up crying after being told by an atheist pupil that religious people are nuts and should be locked up? Or if their daughter was upset by a Muslim telling her she would suffer eternally for not believing in Allah and his Messenger?

"In both these cases, there would be an outcry if the school did nothing, or if it said that that their kids would have to put up with being frightened, because trying to stop this would amount to 'not showing respect for beliefs'. Most fair-minded people will see this."

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.