NMFS campaign: seek inclusive alternatives to Kingston faith school

NMFS campaign: seek inclusive alternatives to Kingston faith school

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Boy walking home from school

The No More Faith Schools campaign has urged the local council in Kingston-upon-Thames to reject a proposal to open a discriminatory Church of England school in the area.

The council is considering a proposal to open a voluntary aided (VA) C of E secondary school, which would discriminate on religious grounds in a third of admissions if it is oversubscribed. In future that proportion could rise.

VA schools are allowed to enforce a particularly exclusive religious ethos. They act as their own admissions authorities and can in principle apply a religious test for up to 100% of places.

They can also teach faith based religious education and relationships and sex education, and are often particularly assertive in enforcing daily acts of denominational worship.

NMFS objections

The NMFS campaign has now submitted an objection to the proposals in response to a consultation from Kingston Council.

The campaign objected on the grounds that the school's faith ethos will be exclusive, despite claims in the proposal to open the school that it would have "a community ethos".

The campaign also said the school's discriminatory admissions would exclude children from families with no faith or the 'wrong' faith if it was oversubscribed.

It added that if the school was undersubscribed, more families could be assigned to faith schools against their wishes. In September 2020, 110 pupils in Kingston were assigned a faith school having preferred a non-faith option.

The campaign also objected to the school's ability to push its religious ethos on several other grounds, including that:

  • The school may apply a religious test in hiring, promoting or retaining senior staff - and theoretically could do so for any teaching position.
  • A majority of trustees would be selected by the church to promote the school's religious ethos.
  • The school would teach religious education in a way that promotes its religious ethos, and may teach relationships and sex education through a religious lens, with potential discriminatory effects.

It also argued that there had insufficient consideration of inclusive alternative options, noting that:

  • The school would be entirely funded from public money. Usually religious organisations behind VA faith schools are expected to make a 10% contribution towards the school's capital costs, but in this case the council is providing that money.
  • There had been a lack of meaningful engagement with the concerns of local residents over the proposals.

Residents' concerns

The campaign highlighted objections from several local residents, including:

  • Dominic, the parent of a 10-year-old, who said: "To select school places based on the faith of the parents is discrimination and is obscene."
  • Louise, who said selecting children based on their parents' religion "isn't right" and "won't help create a cohesive community".
  • Sedar, who was among those to object to the council's use of taxpayers' money in place of a contribution from the local C of E diocese.
  • Penny, who described another faith school as "the worst possible option for Kingston" and said there should instead be a school with a "true community ethos".

NMFS campaign comment

NMFS campaign coordinator Alastair Lichten said the council should reject the proposal.

"A new voluntary aided faith school would divide children in Kingston by their parents' religion and send a damaging message. It would allow public funds to be used to advance the Church of England's interests, at the expense of those of local residents.

"No convincing case has been made for using public money to fund this discriminatory school. Claims that it will have a 'community ethos' are not borne out by reality, and taxpayers will get a bad deal.

"Children and families in Kingston would be best served by a school which serves the local community fairly. The council should now rigorously pursue alternative options, so any new school places which are provided are inclusive and secular."

Faith schools and government plans

  • The school in Kingston was proposed as part of a wave of new VA schools which the government plans or hopes to open in England.
  • It was also one of four C of E faith schools which moved closer to opening in February.

Image: Ben Molyneux/Shutterstock.com.

Tags: Disestablishment, Faith schools