Comic Sans, British officialspeak, and the separation of church and state

Here's a story that sums up a giant slice of the stuff that frustrates me about the British education system. The UK has no separation of church and state, so British state schools have mandatory "religious education" curriculum (which is often a survey of world religions, but which rarely, if ever, touches on atheism). So Littleton Green Community School, Cannock announced a religious education school trip to nearby Staffordshire University to "learn about different cultures," which is fine, but apparently provoked a bunch of parents who were alarmed that their kids were going to look at religious artifacts from religions other than Christianity, and gave rise to something of a panic.

So far, so terrible: mandatory religion and racist panic. Then the school's head teacher sent a letter to parents, in Comic Sans — the favoured font of British educational officialdom — written in High Bureaucrat and passive voice that threatened to put a permanent "Your kid is a racist" note on kids' educational files if parents didn't let them go on the trip.

And finally, after the news media jumped on this and embarrassed the school, they climbed down by sending another note (it's not reproduced on the BBC's site, but I'm willing to bet it was also in Comic Sans), telling parents to "disregard a section" of the letter — the threatening paragraph — as well as "any inaccuracies." This being the official British version of an apology: "pay no attention to the idiotic thing we did before."

There you go: a perfect storm of bad typography, bad writing, bad educational policy, bad parents and bad bureaucracy. All it needs is someone wringing their hands about paedophiles attacking the children on the trip and it'd be one for the ages.

Parents were warned: "Refusal to allow your child to attend this trip will result in a Racial Discrimination note being attached to your child's education record, which will remain on this file throughout their school career."

Parents contacted the school to complain.

One parent, David Rhys, 44, said: "There could be all manner of reasons why parents do not allow their children on a trip.

"But that doesn't mean the parents are racist, and it certainly is not fair to label the children as racist for the rest of their school life.

"These children are very young but something like that could affect the rest of their lives."

Another letter sent home from the school by head teacher Lynn Small apologised for "any inaccuracies" in the earlier letter, and asked parents to disregard the original letter.

Head teacher apologises over 'racial discrimination' letter [BBC]