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Government publishes details of latest Free School applicants – prior to deciding which to back to open

In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by the British Humanist Association (BHA), the Department for Education (DfE) has today published the names, locations and religions of all 105 groups applying to set up Free Schools as part of the seventh wave of Free School proposals (opening from September 2015) – including 29 religious or pseudoscientific groups. This means that for the first time the DfE has published the identities of Free School applicants prior to deciding which it wishes to back to open. The BHA has long been campaigning for this information to be published at such a formative stage and has welcomed the fact that in the future this might be the case.

The 29 religious or pseudoscientific proposals include:

  • Four applications for Church of England schools (in Ealing, Harrow, Hertfordshire and Stockton-on-Tees)
  • Ten other applications for Christian schools (in Croydon, Greenwich, Harrow, Hertfordshire, Southampton, Hammersmith and Fulham, Richmond upon Thames, Reading, Kent and Merton)
  • Three applications for Muslim schools (in Manchester, Enfield and Leicester)
  • Two applications for Jewish ethos special schools (in Salford and Barnet)
  • Two applications for Sikh schools (in Redbridge and Wolverhampton)
  • Two applications for Hindu schools (in Redbridge and Croydon)
  • Two applications for Steiner schools (in East Sussex and Devon)
  • Four applications for schools aligned with Indian gurus – three where the religion is listed as ‘Sri Aurobindo And The Mother‘s Children’, and one based on from the Sathya Sai Baba movement.

26 of the 77 mainstream proposals are religious or pseudoscientific. The names of successful applicants is not expected to be known until next month.

For some time the BHA has been campaigning to find out the details of Free School proposals prior to the DfE deciding which it wishes to see open. In January 2013 the Information Tribunal seemingly ordered the DfE to start providing this information, but since then the DfE has continued to refuse to do so – instead rejecting FOI requests until it has announced those it supports. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has twice reiterated the Tribunal’s decision since it was made (with respect to waves four and five), rejecting the DfE’s attempts to rely on different exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act in order to refuse disclosure, and decisions on two further cases (with respect to waves six and seven) remain pending.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We welcome the fact that the Government has, for the first time, published the names of Free School applicants some time prior to making a decision as to which to back – something that we have long been campaigning for. It is vital that the public is aware of who is applying to set up Free Schools prior to any decisions being made, and the fact that this has not been the case represents a serious democratic deficit. Whether the Government now intends to routinely do this remains to be seen and we will continue to hold the Government to account until this is the case.’

With respect to the number of religious applications, Mr Thompson continued, ‘It is hugely important that every school is equally inclusive of all pupils, parents and staff, regardless of their religion or belief, and this is not the case with religious schools. Schools which can discriminate in their admissions, employment and curriculum policies are divisive, and this becomes increasingly problematic as our ever more diverse society makes community cohesion more and more important.’

Notes

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

See who the latest proposers are: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/List-of-proposed-Free-Schools.xlsx

Read the BHA’s comment on the last ICO decision: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/05/23/government-told-publish-names-free-school-applicants-commissioner-considers-permanent-action/

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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