Posted: Tue, 04 Feb 2020
The No More Faith Schools campaign has criticised a plan to close a community school and open a new Church of England school on its site in Surrey.
Surrey County Council is proposing to close Englefield Green Infant School near Egham, along with Christ Church C of E Infant School in Virginia Water.
It would then amalgamate the two and open a voluntary aided (VA) C of E school on the site of Englefield, which currently does not have a religious character.
If the plan goes ahead the building and land at Englefield Green will be transferred from Surrey County Council to the Church of England's diocese of Guildford. Englefield Green is the larger and more modern of the two schools scheduled for closure.
The new school's religious character
A consultation document issued by the council and the diocese says the new school will "have a distinctly Christian ethos".
VA faith schools are entitled to enforce a stringent religious ethos, including by selecting up to 100% of their pupils on religious grounds in their admissions processes if they are oversubscribed.
The new school will not discriminate on religious grounds in admissions initially, but will retain the right to do so if it is oversubscribed and its governing body decides to introduce religious selection.
NMFS campaign spokesperson Megan Manson said: "This proposal would effectively see a school designed to serve the community handed over to the Church of England to run as a faith school.
"Because of its voluntary aided status, the school could enforce its religious character through its RE teaching and potentially choose to discriminate in admissions and hiring in due course.
"At a time when just one per cent of young adults say they belong to the C of E, community schools rather than faith-based schools are best placed to support inclusion and community cohesion.
"Local authorities should protect schools which enable children to make up their own minds about religion and which are welcoming to children of all religious backgrounds and none. This plan should be rejected out of hand."
A council consultation on the plans will close on Wednesday 26 February and a public meeting is taking place at Christ Church school on Tuesday 11 February at 2pm. The NMFS campaign is urging local supporters to respond to the consultation and attend the meeting.
Faith-based provision treated preferentially across England
In 2018 research from the National Secular Society found that faith-based provision is treated preferentially during school reorganisations across England.
Between 2010 and 2017, 61 schools closed and re-opened with a different religious status. Seventy per cent of these went from being religiously neutral schools to faith schools, usually under C of E control.
Council's justification for closing the schools
The council has justified the decision to close the schools on the grounds that their admission numbers have declined in recent years. But local residents have expressed concerns that the council's logic does not take into account likely increases in pupil numbers in the area.
Notes on VA faith schools
- In VA faith schools 100% of running costs are paid by the state.
- VA faith schools are permitted to teach denominational religious education (inspected by the religious body that runs them, rather than Ofsted), and teach relationships & sex education according to the tenets of their faith.
- VA faith schools can apply a religious test when hiring, promoting or retaining any teacher. In practice such discrimination is usually restricted to senior roles and RE teachers.
Note on religion and demographics
- Just one per cent of 18-24 year olds said they belonged to the Church of England in the most recent British Social Attitudes survey.