I’m not Catholic. At all. But I’m happier than I ever imagined I’d be that I went to a Catholic school. And not for the reasons you’d think.
I disagreed with a lot of the teachings at my school, but a Catholic school is so much more than just a collection of “Bible-bashing” (the words my friends used) teachers; in fact, it wasn’t even that.
Sure, we had to go to chapel once a week and sex education was next to nothing, but a Catholic education has benefits.
Above all, it was a community; it gave a sense of belonging, a sense that we really cared about each other. Catholic school incorporated kindness and compassion into the blur of lessons and exams, and for us, this was enhanced by our beloved school priest, Father Pinot.
I remember with warmth my 11-year-old self, nervous about starting secondary school, being visited at home by Father Pinot to wish me luck for the years ahead; he visited each of the 60 new students at home during the summer, every year.
I remember lunchtimes spent with friends in his office, where he’d offer Smarties to anyone who could solve a puzzle. It made us feel accepted. As young children, forever getting lost in this huge new school in Hertfordshire, it was a place of refuge; we felt secure and religion wasn’t mentioned once.
While my friends at non-faith schools may have got to wear short skirts and never had to endure mass in the freezing cold chapel, they tell me they never felt the same connection and sense of family with their school that I had.
So the bad press surrounding faith schools saddens me. With the National Secular Society claiming that 80 per cent of the population disapprove of faith schools, it’s clear that not everyone holds the same regard that I do for Catholic schools. But the debate is often so limited – no one really looks beyond the faith label to see what else the schools offer and what other schools could learn.
As for the inclusivity debate, in my experience, just because a school is religious, it doesn’t mean it isn’t inclusive. I always felt welcome even though I did not share the religion of the majority of the people there.
A Catholic education taught me more about caring for others than any normal school could have; it not only taught me my GCSEs and A-levels, but also the importance of love and understanding, acceptance and inclusion – and I barely even opened a Bible.
Georgia Ziebart is about to start her first year at Bristol University