My ideal job has come up, but it's at a Catholic school and I'm lapsed...

21st March 2003 at 00:00

.Should I forget it or try to bluff my way through?

Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own - by writing to: Dear Ted, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Or email:

Ted says

Telling lies to get a job in a school specifically devoted to developing the most virtuous of human qualities would not be a brilliant start to your career in the church sector. No doubt you would eventually be rumbled and that would produce embarrassment all round.

First, you need to check out how important it is for applicants to be practising Catholics. Many Catholic schools have children of other faiths, so they don't necessarily insist that all teachers are members of their own. I can even think of heads who would regard it as a sporting challenge to get you involved in the church once more, if you are on the staff and warm to the atmosphere in the school.

It also depends why you are lapsed. If your dislike of the faith is strong, taking the job might be unattractive to the school and yourself, but it sounds as if it is not outright hostility, given that you are prepared to work in a church school.

You must be honest with the school and discuss your position with the head or some appropriate senior person. Even a relatively brief telephone call could clarify most of the issues quickly, without the need for a long period of angst. If they are willing to receive your application, fine - you may land your dream job. If not, see what comes up elsewhere.

If you do apply you will need to bring out your personal as well as your professional qualities, as faith schools see developing the person as a central part of their mission, whether teachers are themselves religious or not. But definitely no fibbing, even though you do not go to the confessional nowadays.

You say

Is it the right job for you?

Each time I see an ad for a Catholic school, my first thought is "Will they let me in? Or will they see right through me to the pagan atheist I am?" My conclusion is that I should give them the chance I would hope they would give me when they see how perfectly I fit the rest of their criteria. If I'm asked if I'm a Catholic, I reply: "No, but I'm willing to support the moral ethos of the school." My theory is that if that's good enough for them, I will fit in; if it's not, I would have been miserable there and it wasn't my ideal job after all.

Ellie Marden, London W5

Come clean

If you're lapsed, admit it. The important thing is that you believe in the Catholic ethos of your school, and that you are willing to support it and be part of the wider school community. Make that point in the interview and if you are the right person for the school, they'll take you on.

Lesley Marwood, Sowerby, Thirsk

Ethos is more important than dogma

Bluffing isn't to be recommended. Misleading the panel could cost you the job, but it's better to be honest. Denominational schools naturally prefer to employ practising members of their faith. But most Catholic schools now employ some staff who are not Catholic. The crucial issue is whether you can honestly and actively support the school's ethos. If you think you can but the documentation about the post doesn't make the school's views clear, ask to discuss your situation informally with the headteacher. If you have reservations about your ability to support the Catholic ethos, look elsewhere.

Mike Webster, Lancashire

Compromise is possible

I consider myself an atheist whereas the Catholic church sees me as a lapsed Catholic. At my two interviews for middle management posts at Catholic secondaries, governors asked: "Would you be happy to lead prayer in form registration?" I answered that I would be. Rather than recite a prayer, I would ask pupils each morning to think about an individual or group of individuals close to us or in the news who were suffering or who had difficult choices to make. However, being a practising Catholic is a prerequisite for many senior management posts. Lapsed Catholics need to decide the extent to which they are prepared to "live a lie".

Tony Elston, Manchester

You won't get away with it

Don't bluff an interview, or imagine that you could maintain a practising Catholic front and a lapsed background simultaneously. Once the pupils found out, your street cred would drop. And then there's the rubric; when do you stand, sit or kneel in church? And the meanings of the feast days? What if you were asked something simple, such as whether a particular feast day is a holy day of obligation or one of fast and abstinence? Not to mention doing the reading at the leavers' mass.

Brendan McGlone, Belfast

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