School signI had lunch today with the head teacher of a secondary school in Croydon. Among other things we were musing about how the debate about so-called ‘faith schools’ is being handled in the media. This was partly set off by an article in yesterday’s Guardian by Martin Wainwright about parental displeasure with a Portsmouth school’s decision to insist on a new school uniform for its students. The article, which seems to me to be entirely fair, begins as follows:

A comprehensive school has introduced a compulsory new uniform costing up to £97 a child, prompting fears that children from low-income households may be deterred from applying for a place.

Parents are protesting at a compulsory new uniform introduced by a comprehensive school which can cost £97 per child. The uniform for Oaklands Catholic school in Waterlooville, near Portsmouth, Hampshire, is available only from the school or one local retailer, giving parents no real opportunity to shop around. Government guidance on the issue is for schools to arrange a range of suppliers.

This is headed in the online version by:

Comprehensive defends new school uniform costing nearly £100.

The school is simply described in the article itself as a ‘comprehensive school’. However, the newspaper version had a different headline:

Parents angry over faith school’s compulsory £100 uniform.

Now, that tells a very different story. The nature of this school is actually irrelevant to the story being reported. The writer has done a good job at telling us the story, letting us hear the voices in the discussion and setting it in a wider financial, social and educational context. So, what was the agenda of the sub-editor who added that headline to the newspaper copy?

I will be writing more about so-called ‘faith schools’ in due course as this debate needs a new direction. For example, simply lumping Church of England schools in with Roman Catholic schools or Islamic academies (whatever view you take of their desirability) is just lazy, ignorant and misleading. They are different beasts and it is not good enough simply to stick them together under one convenient catch-all category as if the differences didn’t matter and the unique ethos of each was irrelevant.

In what other sphere of life would such treatment be deemed acceptable?

The Guardian might well have a ‘line’ to push on these matters, but we should at the very least be able to expect more care and accuracy with its headlines.