BBC presenter Alice Roberts in 'battle' with her mother over campaign against faith schools

Robert Mendick
Alice Roberts: leading the campaign against faith schools - Rex Features

The BBC presenter and academic Alice Roberts is embroiled in a “battle” with her own mother over her “antagonistic” campaign to end state funding of religious schools.

Professor Roberts’ mother Wendy, a retired teacher, took the highly unusual step of going public in her criticism of the presenter and scientist. In a letter to a national newspaper, Wendy, who taught in church schools, wrote that such schools “have been and still are a most benign benefit” and said that she was “embarrassed” and “upset” by her daughter’s campaign.

Her daughter Alice, who presents the BBC documentary series Coast, is fronting the Humanists UK protest to end state funding of faith schools. Last night she defended  the campaign in the face of her mother’s objection and accusations of hypocrisy after it emerged her two children attend a Church of England primary school.

Alice Roberts in a publicity photo for a BBC programme on King Arthur

Prof Roberts, 45, an anatomist and professor of science at Birmingham University, declined to comment on her mother’s remarks but said in a statement issued to the Daily Telegraph: “We applied to the only two non-religious state schools in our area but didn’t get in. The only other state schools were religious so, like hundreds of thousands of parents, we had no choice other than of a faith school.

“This is the whole point of why Humanists UK’s schools campaign is so important and  why I feel so passionately about it - to make sure the situation my husband and I faced is not faced by other parents in the future.”

On Twitter she denied being a hypocrite, pointing out “I had no choice” in where her children were educated.

Humanists UK unveiled Professor Roberts as its new president a week a go and announced she would be steering its campaign against the state funding of faith schools.

The announcement prompted her mother to write a letter to the Sunday Times in protest. “I have not encountered anywhere undue ‘pushing’ of doctrine - rather the ‘pushing’ of Christian values,” wrote Wendy, “The emphasis is on educating the young to be aware of society, the promotion of care and selflessness.”

Wendy said she and her husband, an aeronautical engineer and former church warden, said in a follow-up interview: “We believe the Christian way of bringing up children is a good benchmark.”

Wendy said she had not discussed the campaign with her daughter, only learning of it in the Press. But she added: “I think we are on a battle,” adding: “I didn’t realise she was so antagonistic and I don’t really know why.”

Wendy said her daughter was “picking the wrong fight” and in her letter wrote: “Some humanists complaining about, and campaigning against, the ‘indoctrination’ of children in our church schools seem to be unaware that they are doing almost exactly that about which they are objecting.”

Prof Roberts, who studied classics at A-level before switching to medicine, made her television debut in 2001 as a human bone specialist on Channel 4’s Time team.  She has presented a number of programmes for the BBC and written seven popular science books.