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Humanists UK condemns proposal to convert Surrey community school into a Christian faith school

Humanists UK has today condemned a proposal to amalgamate two Surrey infant schools, one Church of England and one with a community ethos, into a single Christian faith school which can select pupils based on their family’s religion.

Surrey County Council, the Diocese of Guildford, and the governing bodies of Englefield Green Infant School and Christ Church CofE Aided Infant School near Virginia Water are proposing to close the two existing schools and replace them with one Church of England voluntary aided school based on the Englefield site from September 2020. This new school will be legally permitted to provide religious education in line with the Christian faith and select 100% of pupils on religious grounds.

According to the consultation document, both schools ‘have experienced a decline in admissions in recent years’ leading to reduced budgets. However, Humanists UK – which has long campaigned for an inclusive, secular education with schools  that are suitable for all children irrespective of religion or belief – has expressed alarm that rather than proposing to maximise the chances that the new school is able to attract pupils from a variety of backgrounds, the Council, Diocese, and governing bodies have chosen to opt for a faith school.

In their response to criticism of the plan, Surrey County Council said that, while Englefield Green is a community school, it is ‘affiliated with the Diocese and has a strong relationship with the local voluntary Junior School St Jude’s C of E Junior School.’ According to the Diocese’s website, affiliation is an ‘informal, time-limited partnership’ between the school, the parish, and the wider diocese. It has no legal standing and is not supposed to ‘give the diocese any power or influence in the school’s executive functions’ or ‘give the church the right to promote Christianity within the school.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham commented: ‘It is alarming to learn that Surrey County Council is considering this proposal. If approved it will effectively mean that the local community loses an inclusive community school and have it replaced with a divisive faith school that will be able to select its pupils based on religious lines, thus dividing children and family in the community. Worse still, the Council will effectively be handing the school and the land it occupies to the Diocese.

‘Affiliation is an informal arrangement that is not supposed to enable the Church to exert additional powers over schools that do not have a religious character. When closures are required, it is important that the schools that remain are able to meet the needs of all pupils equally. We strongly urge the Council to rethink this proposal and commit to supporting schools that are open, inclusive, and suitable for all children regardless of their parents’ beliefs.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read our most recent article on 19 new religious free school applications 

Read our article about the first new Government-funded Catholic school in over ten years getting approval to open

Read more about our work on state-funded faith schools

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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