Posted: Thu, 18 Jul 2019
The No More Faith Schools campaign has criticised a decision to place a new publicly-funded resource centre for pupils with autism within a Catholic school in Berkshire.
The Blessed Mary Ward Centre, which has cost £1.9m, has opened at Blessed Hugh Faringdon School in the Southcote area of Reading. The school already has a base for up to four children with Asperger's, and expects the parents of children there to "accept the Catholic ethos of the school".
NMFS campaigner Alastair Lichten said: "Finding appropriate provision for children with special educational needs is hard enough without tying up that provision in an exclusive religious ethos.
"In our current campaign against divisive new voluntary aided schools, local councillors have shared their frustration at seeing millions set aside for unnecessary new faith schools, while proposals for special educational needs provision face barriers and delay.
"Most parents don't select schools on religious grounds. Where a pupil's family circumstances or special educational needs require them to attend a specific state school, this cannot be allowed to compromise their freedom of belief."
Catholic state schools all act as their own admissions authorities and can practice up to 100% religious selection. Admissions to Blessed Hugh Faringdon's 'Asperger Base' are managed by the local authority and are not based on religion.
The school's website explicitly highlights its Catholic ethos, saying "true teaching in faith and true intellectual formation continue to go hand in hand in our school".
A local resident told the NMFS campaign that there was a significant deficit of resources for autistic children in the local area. Many pupils are effectively forced to travel to special schools outside the borough.