Over the last two years, at least 15 private schools run by the Exclusive Brethren have applied to the Department for Education (DfE) for Free School status. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed concern that the beliefs of the Brethren may have trouble fitting in with mainstream education, and welcomes the rejection of the proposals by the DfE.
The Focus Learning Trust is a network of 39 private schools that teach in line with beliefs of the Exclusive Brethren. Schools from within the network known to have applied to open as Free Schools in 2013 include Wilton Park School, Surrey Hills School and Northmoor School, Cottingham. In addition, the DfE also received bids to open in 2012 from Tamar Valley School, Sefton Park School, Eastbrook School and Highfield School, and in an unstated year, from Ashton Park School, Copeswood School, Highcombe Edge School, Prospect School, Highview School and Moordale School.
Hornby Park School, run by the Brethren Christian Fellowship, also applied to open in 2013, and Focus School – Berkeley Campus, run by the Prospect Education Trust, announced last week that it is applying to open in 2014.
The Focus Learning Trust twice met with junior schools minister Lord Hill of Oareford in late 2010, to discuss coalition support for Free Schools. The Trust’s schools are inspected by their own body, the School Inspection Service (SIS), which in turn is inspected by Ofsted. SIS also inspects Steiner schools.
BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We have a number of concerns about what is contained within the curriculum of these schools. They do not appear to offer ICT GCSE, but instead teach it within “Focus Learning Trust guidelines”; this is because they see technology as a potentially corrupting influence, and for many this leads them ill-equipped to deal with the outside world. They also do not offer standard Religious Education, but instead teach narrower “Bible Studies”. Many Exclusive Brethren groups are also creationist, so we would be concerned about the science taught in the schools. Finally, the Brethren view sex as corrupting, and homosexuality as immoral, so the Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education is likely to be of a very subjective nature.
‘We are also concerned that many of the applying schools’ websites do not state their links to the Brethren, instead just stating they have a Christian ethos. And none of them mention their link to the Exclusive Brethren, who are even more secretive than the more common Plymouth Brethren. As a result, we are concerned that many parents who indicate support for the proposals will not realise what they are endorsing.
‘We are pleased that the Department for Education has rejected all Free School bids from Exclusive Brethren groups.’
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools
View the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/schools-with-a-religious-character.pdf
Read a list of 2013 Free School bids identified by the BHA: https://humanism.org.uk/news/view/995
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.