Posted: Tue, 09 Feb 2021
Four new state-funded Church of England faith schools have moved closer to opening, despite a lack of public scrutiny around the plans.
The Department for Education (DfE) has approved funding in principle for a new voluntary aided (VA) secondary school in Kingston-upon-Thames, which will be allowed to enforce a particularly exclusive religious ethos.
The other three schools, in Derbyshire, Kent and Hartlepool, have moved forward as part of the latest wave of free schools in the government's academies programme in England.
The school in Derbyshire has moved to the pre-opening stage, while the DfE has approved the other schools in principle.
Lack of scrutiny, discriminatory admissions and other concerns
The NMFS campaign has previously warned of a lack of public scrutiny and consultation over proposals to open new academies with a religious ethos. The free school proposals have not been subject to public consultation.
VA faith schools can assign up to 100% of their places on a religious basis if the school is oversubscribed. The same is true for up to 50% of places in new free schools.
The proposals also raise concerns over schools being built in areas where they aren't needed; families being pushed into faith schools against their wishes; and local residents bearing the cost of building a school.
The NMFS campaign is working with local residents to oppose the plans for the new faith schools, and has previously been in contact with councillors in the relevant areas.
The DfE has approved funding in principle for a new VA secondary school in Kingston, which plans to select up to a third of its pupils based on faith.
The school's website claims all will be welcome to apply, but a proposal published by the local C of E diocese says a "proportion" of places will be foundation places. This means they will be assigned in line with the school's religious ethos.
The NMFS campaign is seeking clarification on the local authority's plans for a consultation over the plans.
The school was part of a wave of VA school applications which appeared unlikely to move forward, other than a Catholic school which is now set to open in Peterborough.
There is little information on plans to open the Avenue Church of England Primary School, in the village of Wingerworth.
The school's website says it will be non-selective, but its admissions policy has not yet been disclosed. C of E schools typically include such inclusive language even when they practice discriminatory admissions.
The DfE's approval also moves forward plans to open St Joseph's C of E Primary School in Hartlepool.
According to the government's information on free school applications there is no need for new school places in the area.
The DfE has also approved plans to open a primary school near Ashford, run by Aquila, the Diocese of Canterbury Academies Trust, in principle.
It will serve a new housing estate of 750 homes at Conningbrook Park, meaning many local residents are likely to have little choice but to attend.
The site of the school will be provided by the housing developer, passing the associated costs onto residents.
Schools which are already run by the trust operate a mix of open and discriminatory admissions policies.
NMFS campaign coordinator Alastair Lichten said it was "disappointing to see these plans moving forward, and alarming that they can do so with little opportunity for public challenge".
"Those responsible for education policy should see through the C of E's rhetoric which suggests these schools will be inclusive and welcoming.
"Schools should teach children together regardless of their religious background and should enable children to develop their own beliefs. The government should move beyond faith-based education and fund inclusive secular schools for all."
School run by Islamic trust also approved
Meanwhile another free school which does not appear to have an official faith ethos, but which is run by an Islamic academy trust, has also been given approval.
The proposal would open a primary school in Littleborough, in Greater Manchester.
Notes on free school proposals
- Research from the No More Faith Schools campaign has previously found that many free schools with a religious ethos have been proposed in areas where there is little or no need for new places.
- Last month the National Secular Society, which coordinates the NMFS campaign, raised concerns over the lack of scrutiny of the plans with senior representatives at the DfE.
- The free schools have been approved under wave 14 of the government's free school programme. This launched a couple of years ago and included 19 proposed faith schools.
- Applicants to open new faith schools who are unsuccessful in wave 14 are likely to reapply in the next wave of the programme.