This isn’t really a opinion poll, but its the same sort of rubbish media reporting of surveys. The Sunday Telegraph had a survey at the weekend which claimed “only one in five schools are­ planning to perform a traditional nativity play this year.” It showed no such thing.

The results showed 64% of the primary schools they surveyed were putting on a religious nativity play, the headlines about only one in five were based on taking only what they called “traditional” nativity plays, excluding all the modern versions. Personally you might find all the modernised musical nativity plays appallingly cheesy, but things like “Hosanna Rocks”, “Whoops-a-Daisy Angel” and so on are nativity plays: they do involve angels, censuses, Bethlehem, Herod, baby Jesus being born in a manger and so on. They also sometimes involve bashful sheep, or stuck up angels or other peripheral nonsense or alternative POVs, but the core story is there. They might well be an affront to good taste, but not a threat to Christianity.

Why does it matter? Well, anyone reading the Sunday Telegraph story with a critical eye will have picked up the real picture, but after that people will quote the headlines and give a false picture. Mark Pritchard has an adjournment debate this week on ‘Christianophobia’ and is quoted as saying that the debate is particularly topical, “as recent findings suggested four fifths of schools were not staging nativity plays this year”. There it goes – dodgy representation of survey findings and, two days later, we have a bit of misinformation happily ensconced in the debate that will probably crop up for years to come.

29 Responses to “64% of primary schools will have a nativity play this year”

  1. I am afraid that this is another example of our untrustworthy media. How often, even in so-called quality newspapers, do you see headlines put the worst possible slant on a story, only to find when you read the article that there is only the smallest grain of truth in the headline? Little wonder that editors and their journalists are rated so lowly by most thinking readers who regard much of what they offer as simply unpleasant in order to fulfil some perverse agenda. What drives them to do it? Does seeking to appeal to baser instincts sell newspapers?

  2. I hadn’t known who Mark Pritchard was, but assumed from your post he’s Conservative. Why such an assumption? Especially since I thought the Tories stood against Centralisation of policy for schools, not a prescriptive “teach this” approach.

    I guess the Conservatives are regarded as the “tradition is good” party. Not a bad thing for them by any means. i wonder what Labour contributions to the debate will be?

    On the subject of mis-reading figures, BBC Five Live presenters were baffled by polls which showed that 53% thought Brown had been tainted by sleaze, and that he was still ahead of Cameron as the “best-equipped” to be PM. They drew the conclusion that sleaze is therefore regarded as a qualification for the job! No doubt the polling did not ask the questions in such a loaded fashion, yet we the licence payers were being fed a line.

  3. Excellent story Anthony and points up how poor most of the media reporting of most things is, not just survey/polling data! In answer to John H’s question (‘what drives them to do it?’): most, possibly all, media outlets have their own agenda. For the Sunday Telegraph it’s ‘modern things and trendy lefty theories are bad, and the country is going to hell in a handcart’ (I paraphrase but only slightly!). Even if the headline and tenor of their piece could be supported by the polling data, which as Anthony says it clearly can’t, a lot of us might think that schools in a largely secular country not pandering to the religious minority was a good thing, but the Telegraph clearly gives no credence to the newfangled theory of ‘two sides to every story’…

  4. Incidentally, I see that the BBC (at least the BBC News website) has picked up the story. Leaving aside the fact that one might think the BBC shouldn’t rely on newspapers to write its ‘news’, the first line of the article reads: ‘The traditional nativity play is on the wane, suggests a survey’. Another layer has been added to the misinformation – even if the Telegraph’s interpretation of the survey was correct (which as we know etc. etc.) it didn’t as I understand it ask anything about trends over time, only about how many schools were planning plays this Christmas. Whatever proportion said yes to traditional style plays may indeed be half as many as 10 years ago. It may also be twice as many or exactly the same number – we have no longitudinal data to analyse.

  5. One cannot help but draw the conclusions that a.) newspapers are intent only on sustaining their own narratives of the world, rather than reporting the truth and that b.) people are stupid enough or lazy enough to believe them.

    Both are somewhat depressing.

  6. This is another example of the quite extraordinarly lazy media we have developed in this country. The British have an istinct to moan and be pessimistic I suppose, and it’s easier for journalists to constantly look for the “everything’s just shit” line on every story. To hear journalists mocking politicians about spin makes my blood boil, because newspapers do it wildly every day, here being another example. I understand that recently the Mail or Express ran a headline “Diana may have been pregnant”. As I understand it, this was following evidence given at the ongoing inquiry into her death that there was absolutely no evidence whatsoever that she was pregnant, but of course it is always possible that she was in the very early stages, which goes without saying for anyone surely. Once again, they take the lazy approach, thinking that that their readers want to read stories about there being more to Diana’s death, so they lay that on. That’s bad anough, but the quite disreputable way the papers have done the same sort of thing with the Madeline Mccan story disgusts me.

  7. I particularly enjoyed playing Herod, when I was 10. Villains always have the best roles.

  8. The Sunday Telegraph is just pandering to its readers like nearly all newspapers seem to do these days. I have a delightful old Aunt who will dine out on this article for weeks no matter how many times I tell her that she is being ‘had’. Half the time I suspect that she along with many others knows full well that she is being conned but as the Telegraph’s interpretation of the survey is what she WANTS to believe she is not going to be that bothered by its accuracy.
    I am sorry however that the debate on this subject has already struck a discordant note. ChrisC seems to suggest that we should not pander to the religous minority by staging nativity plays in our schools. Has he any evidence that the parents of children in the so called secular majority he claims to speak for are anything other than happy to see their kids take part in nativity plays? At my wife’s school where she teaches the pleasure children,parents and staff religous or not get from the annual nativity play is just wonderful to behold. Have a heart Chris.

  9. ChrisC – it was only when I saw it being mentioned in other sources that I wrote this. On Sunday I had a brief rant to my family about the story being absurd and then forgot about it. In fairness, at the bottom of the story there is a hint of a trend – it says a survey in 2004 found 6/7 schools doing a nativity play. Obviously we can’t tell from that how comparable it was.

    Sean – I only ever got to be a shepherd, pah!

  10. I was the First Wise Man, and Joseph got the giggles, for which he unfairly blamed me. My nativity play career was over. I think he went on to become a politician (or a journalist):)

  11. a disgraceful media spin on a poll.

  12. LOL john t t

    I was a shepherd too Anthony.

    The BBC story I just read was not misleading in saying the traditional nativity play is on the wane (it is) and is clear that other more ‘modern’ nativity plays are being done instead in the remaining 46% of schools. Personally I don’t think it matters much whether a traditional or modern play is done, I wouldn’t like to see no plays at all done though as its a cultural and fun part of Christmas . . . and I say that as an atheist.

  13. What does it say about you when you were always the narrator?
    I already know.

    My sons school always manages a trad nativity. You can always adapt to modern life. Mary doesn’t have to be a blond little girl. Last year Joseph was a beautiful black boy. As it is an all boys school, so was Mary. To make sure Mary didn’t real out of place, all the Sherherds had to have wives too. Ugly ones. Mostly the front row of the rugby team.
    Best laugh I had all Chritmas.

  14. I have a treasured piece of video of my late son Thomas aged 5, trying to strangle a shepard Morecambe and wise style with a crock.


  15. I don’t think I believe it’s as high as that, unfortunately.
    Do we have a sample size?

  16. Oh please let there be no more nativity plays; they are the worst aspect of the Christmas season. No-one can honestly enjoy them, they take up too much school time when children could be enjoying learning and they are put on in uncomfortable halls at awkward times.

    Have a school play, fine, but not at this time of the year when ther are many other better ways to celebrate the season. Christasm plays are drudgery for the school, the child and the parents but because schooling is not about education but about repeating what has always gone on (and giving pointless interminable tests which prove nothing) this charade of Happy Christmas plays on…

    My bag of humbugs is on the right of the keyboard…

  17. Jack
    I believe your bitterness at never being picked as Joseph is showing through. Were you sheep? A donkey – the back end?My husband turned down the part of Joseph in order to be the back end of a donkey [his best mate being the front]. His mother never forgave him.
    Christmas nativities are often magical for the children, the parents and grandparents. Look at the memories rekindled on this site. Try eating some Werther’s Originals.

  18. Sally C:-

    “Christmas nativities are often magical for the children, the parents and grandparents.”

    They are indeed-for all children.
    Which makes the policy adopted by the schools mentioned in The Telegraph article so utterly depressing.
    I find the Birmingham example particularly so.What a poor excuse for Christmas for those children-but not surprising from the City which called its Christmas celebration “Winterval”.

    That this sort of crass political correctness is so often inflicted on families at Christmas, because some idiot councillor has decided that the traditional format would “offend” religious minorities beggars belief. Such is the arrogance of these joyless jobsworths that they don’t even bother to solicit the views of the religious minorities in whose name they have the gall to speak.

    Last year, the Christian Muslim Forum sent out a letter to local councils in which it stressed that Christmas did not cause offence to minority faiths while banning it would offend most of the population.

    “There seems to be a secularising agenda which fails to understand the concerns of religious communities,” the Christian Muslim Forum wrote.

    “The approach of some is to exclude mention of any specific religious event or celebration in order to avoid offending anyone. The usual result of such a policy ends up offending most of the population.”

    The Telegraph may have mis-used their survey to emphasise a point. But there is a point to be made here.

  19. Jack, I always found them good fun (but you do, if you play Herod).

  20. Colin –
    And a point very well made by you. It is all so negative, no doubt encourages negativism and leads inevitably to the questions of integration , the tone of which debate I’m heartily sick of.

    An Irish man once proposed a novel answer to the “marching” problem over there – “Let’s increase the number and type of marches, so the Orange ones become less significant – let’s all march all over the place as often as possible” was the gist of it.

    Similarly, I’d love non-Christians to join in (most do anyway), but why on earth shouldn’t I enjoy the festivals that other faiths celebrate?

    Let’s turn the thing on its head and see whether we can have some fun, in the spirit of getting on together.

    All join in with every-one instead of continually trying to homogenise ourselves.

    When the Sikh play controversy happened in Birmingham, there should have been a concerted effort to get more Sikh writers involved in the Arts, rather than the back-bending “free-speech versus offence” arid nonesense that took place.

  21. Peter Cairns – as a father of three sons, I found your post particularly poignant. Times like Christmas must bring home your loss even more. My best wishes to you and your family.

  22. Me too – and thanks for mentioning that James, I’d missed that one.

  23. It would be interesting to find out why that poll was commissioned.Do people feel pressured to deny their Christian belief? For me it should be something that’s fun for children, there’s enough pressure on them as it is.

  24. wolf – remember it wasn’t really commissioned, the Sunday Telegraph did it themselves by ringing up 100 schools (so the purpose was to get this story!)

  25. Peter.
    I am lining up with James M.
    I was moved to read about Thomas.

  26. Anthony,

    Unless my ears are failing, the Daily Politics just repeated the claim made by this poll.

    “Well, anyone reading the Sunday Telegraph story with a critical eye will have picked up the real picture…”

    You’d think the Daily Politics researchers would have a critical eye between them!


  27. Thanks Folks,

    He died about 18 months ago after years of illness, and has left a huge gap in our lives.

    In an odd way it’s actually helped me as a politician, as I can step back from it when it gets frenetic and remember that there are more important things in life.


  28. Colin, Colin, Colin, Colin,

    Birmingham did NOT rename its Christmas festivities Winterval (lazy tabloid story pare excellence)

    In 1996 I believe, yes 11 YEARS AGO, the city authorities wanted to do something to encourage shopping throughout the poor trading period of January/ February – so they promoted a series of events from November to February which included specific Christmas events at the appropriate time.

    It wasn’t a huge success and I believe it was scrapped after two winters.

    Birmingham runs a large and very successful Christmas Market, which we go to each year.


  29. Gwyn Gwyn Gwyn Gwyn

    I lived there-I saw it-it was depressing.