Government approves new faith school despite local opposition

Posted: Fri, 13 Nov 2020

School classroom

The Department for Education has approved a plan to open a new faith school in Soham in Cambridgeshire, despite opposition from the local council and existing local schools.

Schools minister Elizabeth Berridge has recommended that St Bede's Inter-Church School Trust, which currently runs a school in Cambridge, be allowed to open a new 600-place secondary free school in September 2023. The school will have support from both the Anglican and Catholic churches.

Under current plans it would be allowed to discriminate on a religious basis in 50% of its admissions if it is oversubscribed, and it would be allowed to teach RE from a Christian perspective.

This week Cambridgeshire County Council's children and young people committee resolved to support a response opposing the plan.

The council's service director for education, Jonathan Lewis, told the committee he is "extremely concerned", warning that the plan may destabilise the local education system.

The chair of the committee, Simon Bywater, said: "I think this is a government issue that is being forced upon us."

And other councillors raised questions and concerns over:

  • The government's assessment of the need for so many additional school places in the area
  • The impact of introducing a church school into a small town
  • The possibility of having several schools in the area that were too small to be viable
  • "Long-standing and unanimous opposition" from local secondary schools
  • Travel arrangements to the school.

A No More Faith Schools campaign spokesperson said the government's decision "appears to serve religious interests rather than those of local people".

"Ministers appear determined to press ahead with the Catholic Diocese of East Anglia and the Church of England Diocese of Ely's plan to open a new faith school in Soham, despite a range of significant and valid local objections.

"Any small increase in need for school places in the area should be met by expanding local community schools. This would better enable children to develop their own beliefs and mean they were educated together regardless of their parents' religious backgrounds or identities."

The National Secular Society, which coordinates the NMFS campaign, recently warned the government that plans to open new faith schools were not being properly scrutinised because of a lack of transparency.

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