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Community school to become Church-sponsored Academy – in order to save it from Church-triggered closure threat

A Community school in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham has proposed to become an Academy sponsored (i.e. owned and run) by the Church of England London Diocesan Board for Schools, in order to avoid closure threatened as a result of another Church proposal. The Council has decided to close Sulivan Primary School and amalgamate it with another Community primary school in order to make room for Fulham Boys’ School, a proposed Church of England secondary. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed incredulity at the situation, which would be the first time an Academy with no religious character is sponsored by a Diocese.

Fulham Boys’ School is a new CofE Free School that is proposed to open in September 2014. The school is planning to select 50% of its intake on the basis of faith, if sufficiently oversubscribed – the maximum Free Schools are allowed to do so, and going against the advice of the London Diocesan Board for Schools, which wants all new schools to be fully open in admissions. The existing religious secondary schools in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham are extremely socio-economically selective, with three of the four schools amongst the fourteen worst in the country.

There is no immediately obvious site available for Fulham Boys’ School in the borough, so the Council has decided to amalgamate Sulivan Primary School, a Community primary school, into another Community primary, in order that Sulivan’s site can be vacated for the new Church secondary. However, this proposal proved unpopular locally, triggering a local campaign.

But now Sulivan School is trying to avoid closure by proposing to convert to an Academy, and therefore outside of local authority control (and hence prevent the local authority from being able to close it). This tactic was used successfully by Weston Community School, the only primary school with no religious character in the west of the Isle of Wight, to similarly avoid a religiously inspired closure threat.

However, Sulivan’s proposed sponsor is the London Diocesan Board for Schools, the very body backing the school that led to the closure threat in the first place. If the proposal goes ahead, the BHA believes it will become the first instance of a school with no religious character joining a Diocesan Academy chain, something which only became possible after the Government changed the rules in July to allow it. The school has proposed that it will adopt ‘Christian principles’.

A month ago the BHA wrote to Sulivan School to question the proposed Church sponsorship, but received no reply. Richy Thompson, Education Campaigner at the BHA, commented, ‘The situation with Sulivan Primary School was already farcical, but with the emergence of this proposal for it to become a Church-sponsored Academy it has become even more so. Sulivan has made a deal with the very organisation sponsoring the school that led to it facing closure in the first place, and as such it is now subjecting itself to Church control over its governance and in other respects. Having seen the safeguards devised by the Government to stop such schools from becoming “faith” schools we know that they are inadequate, and once a school joins an Academy chain it stops being an independent entity and is owned by that chain. Instead of Church sponsorship, the school could decide to become an independent Academy, or join another chain. We would urge Sulivan to rethink the step they are now proposing to take.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072.

The BHA has been campaigning for the past two years against the Church of England’s creeping influence over former community schools, with the former Archbishop of Canterbury having said that ‘We are looking at the middle-term future, where the Church of England will be quite conceivably the largest sponsor and provider of secondary education in this country, which is a rather startling and breathtaking proposal.’ More recently the Chair of the Church of England Board of Education, the Bishop of Oxford, asked ‘How could we help the many Community schools that were being orphaned, and want somewhere to turn for wisdom and help? And how could this be turned into a golden opportunity for the Church to extend its good influence throughout the reaches of our land – and of course, for the sake of the Kingdom?’

Read the letter outlining the proposed sponsorship: http://saveoursulivan.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Final-Letter-to-parents-explaining-the-proposal.pdf

and the consultation document: http://saveoursulivan.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Let-Us-Grow-1.pdf

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

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.

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