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Government to force Christian faith school on Cambridgeshire town despite local opposition

Schools Minister Baroness Berridge

The Government has said it will push ahead with plans to open a Christian free school in Soham, Cambridgeshire, ignoring strong opposition from the Council and local schools.

St Bede’s Inter-Church School, a mixed Church of England and Catholic school, was approved under Wave 12 of the Government’s free school programme in April 2017 and is due to open in September 2023. However, Cambridgeshire County Council is strongly opposed to the proposal, with the Chair of its Children and Young People Committee saying it was being ‘forced’ upon them. This week, the Committee resolved to write to Schools Minister, Baroness Berridge setting out their objections after she wrote to say she would be proceeding with the plan contrary to the Council’s advice.

Jonathan Lewis, the Council’s Service Director for Education told the Committee he is ‘extremely concerned’ about the impact the school will have on other schools in the area and that it will ‘[destabalise] the local education system’. East Cambridgeshire county councillor, Lis Every, said there has been ‘long-standing and unanimous opposition from our local secondary schools’ to the proposal.

If the plan goes ahead, St Bede’s will be legally permitted to teach religion from a solely Christian perspective and select 50% of its pupils on religious grounds. As the school’s website points out, pupils admitted on this basis are not required to live in the local catchment area, meaning local children risk being placed to the back of the queue for places at the entirely state-funded school.

Research shows that faith schools don’t only segregate children by religion, but also by ethnicity, prior attainment, and parental wealth – tending to ‘cream off’ more able and advantaged pupils. This means they are less representative of their local area and leave other schools with more disadvantaged cohorts. Studies show it is this, rather than a faith ethos, that accounts for any enhanced performance in league tables.

Humanists UK’s Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented: 

‘Once again, the Government has decided to impose a divisive faith school on a local community, totally ignoring the damage it is likely to do to its children, families, and other schools in the area.

‘Cambridgeshire County Council and the people of Soham are clear that there is no need for a new Christian school in the town. Indeed, at the national level, our research has shown that the number of places in Church of England schools is higher than the entire worshipping community.

‘In light of this, we urge the Government to think again and – in line with our recently published Manifesto for Inclusive Education – ensure that all new school places are open, inclusive, and suitable for all children regardless of background.’

Humanists UK is currently fundraising for the salary and resourcing costs of its dedicated education campaigner. The appeal was recently launched by Humanists UK patron and children’s rights activist Alf Dubs. Supporters of Humanists UK’s vision for a fairer education system are urged to donate at www.justgiving.com/nofaithschools.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at ruth@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.

Read our Manifesto for Inclusive Education.

Read our most recent article on the number of pupils attending Church of England schools outstripping the entire ‘worshipping community’.

Read our recent article about how faith school admissions discriminate against vulnerable children.

Read our recent research on the impact of religiously selective admissions in Liverpool.

Read more about our work on faith schools and religious selection.

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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