Mangers, but no crib sheets

23rd December 1994 at 00:00
Right-wing fears that schools are secularising Christmas celebrations appear unfounded, a TES survey has revealed. Most education authorities are happy to leave it to the teachers.

Christmas will be held in Edmonton, after all. Thanks to the vigilance of the Evening Standard newspaper, we know that the pupils at north London's West Lea special school will be singing the carols of yore, despite an alleged threat from "right-on" teachers.

Political correctness was "out of control," claimed the Standard last week. The same political correctness "went mad" down in south London when, as "exposed" by the Daily Mail, Abbey Wood comprehensive in Greenwich had changed the words in a John Lennon song, "so this is Christmas", to "so this is December".

The search for the desecration of Christmas seems as traditional as the crib itself. But when this week The TES searched for Yuletide correctness, there was little to be seen.

A survey of 114 primary schools in three very different Midland education authorities shows that the vast majority, 100, still hold a Christian Christmas play with 83 plumping for a nativity. Few schools made substantial alterations for the sake of not offending religious minorities. Their efforts at inclusiveness were directed towards celebrating non-Christian festivals as well, particularly in places such as Birmingham and Leicester. Most education authorities had no specific guidance.

The view that Christmas is susceptible to politicisation is, however, powerfully held. Nick Seaton from the Campaign for Real Education, for example, said, "despite the schools' denials it looks very much as though they are trying to get rid of the idea of Christmas. I quite often get complaints from parents. They are secularising Christmas."

Schools are, says Mr Seaton, in the grip of "multi-cultural extremism" - a view which locates Christmas firmly in the debate about collective worship.

He is not alone. Fred Naylor from the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education is also fearful that schools, aided and abetted by the Department for Education, are promoting all faiths as equal. He has in the past objected to what he describes as multi-faith Christmas plays in his local church.

Lady Olga Maitland, another campaigner against the dilution of Christmas, said: "The principle of political correctness has rather taken over from religion. There are a number of schools that can not bring themselves to celebrate Christmas because they think it will offend people. But they don't have any trouble celebrating Diwali."

There are, undeniably, sensitivities. Non-Christian religious leaders, equally, are quick to see nativity plays in the divisive light of collective worship and the potential for Christian proselytising.

Bradford LEA has issued guidance on how the subject should be treated: by 2000 half of its pupils will be from an ethnic minority, the great bulk Muslim. The guidance contains material about Islam so that they can involve as many pupils in Christmas as possible.

Bradford's action remains, however, unusual. Few metropolitan and shire councils questioned by The TES were offering written guidance. Even Leicestershire with its large Asian population feels that its schools can be trusted to behave appropriately.

It is, of course, far from clear that all the mangers and angels were ever more than passingly religious. Laurie Rosenberg from the Board of Deputies of British Jews accepts that the ceremony is largely secular. Lat Blaylock from the Christian Education Movement - the publishing and advisory group which also acts as the mouthpiece for RE teachers - agrees. "Christmas celebrations in school are almost always peripheral to the heart of the festival for Christians. It is now so secularised that a Martian would barely be able to tell it's religious."

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