When it came to choosing a primary school for my five children, one thing was clear in my mind: I wanted them to have a broad and inclusive education which allowed them to mix with a wide variety of children. That’s why I decided to send them to a Catholic school.
I was lucky enough to have a range of very good secular primary schools near me. But the one problem was that the pupils there were practically all from the Muslim faith.
This wasn’t an issue per se, but I was fortunate to have had an education where I mixed with people from all cultures and religious backgrounds, and I wanted my children to have the same.
The Rosary Catholic Primary School in Birmingham proved to be the best solution. I was impressed at the diverse make-up of both the staff and the students. But what really made the school appealing was the strong Catholic ethos that was deeply embedded throughout the school.
Many people often look confused when, as a fully practising Muslim, I went out of my way to get my children into a Catholic school. Indeed, many people in my own community found my choice of schools strange. But for me it was the perfect fit for my children.
First of all, the religious character of the school was not the barrier that many presumed it would be. It was the importance that the school put on faith which meant I knew that my faith and that of my family would be respected.
Many in my community were concerned that sending my children to a Catholic school would affect their Islamic upbringing, but I was clear that that was my responsibility. And to that extent the school was incredibly supportive.
One of the greatest things about the Rosary Catholic Primary School was the serious and solemn way it respected faith – all faith. Because the staff knew how important their Catholic faith was to them, they respected how important my Islamic faith was to me and my family. Religion wasn’t swept under the carpet or made into a taboo subject; it was openly embraced, talked about freely and respected by all. I severely doubt this would have been in the same in a secular state school.
Did my children participate in Nativity plays and Easter celebrations? Yes, they did. Was that a problem for me? Not at all. If you send your children to a Catholic school you should expect them to receive a Catholic education. Being against that would be like walking into a bakery then complaining because you couldn’t buy fish.
Being treasured for who you are is a value that is shared by both Christianity and Islam, and this ethos has benefited my children their entire lives. I truly believe that it was these values which enabled three of them to make it to grammar school.
Too often these days people with no understanding of faith believe that all of society’s ills can somehow be attributed to faith schools and that they are covertly carving up the country along cultural, religious and ethnic lines. In my experience this couldn’t be further from the case.
In fact, if I had wanted my children not to integrate with pupils from other religions or have no understanding of a faith other than their own, I would have sent them to my local community state school.
As I feel part of my local community, I continue to invest my time in the school and regularly help there. I am also a parent-governor at the school, a role which I take incredibly seriously as I want to protect the distinctive character of the Rosary primary, which helped my children greatly.
A Catholic primary school was the best decision for my children and, even as a Muslim, I’m grateful that the state could provide my children with the opportunity of a Catholic education.
Ashrat Ali lives in Birmingham with her husband and five children. She is a parent governor at the Rosary Catholic Primary School
This article first appeared in the June 30 2017 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here