Kingston upon Thames Council has delayed a decision on whether to approve a new Church of England school after Humanists UK objected to irregularities in how local people were consulted about the proposal. In essence, the local Diocese solicited all responses to the proposal to come to them, rather than to the Council – which is what is required under Government guidance. This is a big problem because the proposers then analysed the results themselves in a report they prepared for the Council to make a decision – effectively marking their own homework.
Humanists UK wrote to the Council to explain the issues, pointing out that the guidance states the consultation must be ‘appropriate, fair, and open’, that ‘during the representation period any person or organisation can submit comments on the proposal to the [local authority], to be taken into account by the decision-maker’, and that ‘the decision-maker must consider ALL the views submitted during the representation period’. Humanists UK also pointed out that it was possible that the Council was making its decision based on incomplete information about the opinions of those most affected by the plan.
As a result, the Council withdrew the item from the agenda of last night’s Children’s and Adults’ Care and Education Committee pending review.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:
‘Local people have a legal right to be consulted on any new school that is proposed for their area and the statutory guidance on this matter says this must be carried out in a fair and open manner. By allowing the Diocese to run their own representation period, the Council effectively gave the proposers of the school the opportunity to mark their own homework. Had they gone ahead and approved the school on this basis, this would almost certainly have been unlawful. We are pleased they heeded our warning on this matter.
‘However, when they do revisit this proposal, we would strongly urge them to reject it. As a voluntary aided faith school, this school, once approved, will be able to legally select all its places on the basis of faith. This is despite the fact that the entire project will be funded by the public purse.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.
The capital funding programme for voluntary aided (VA) Schools
If approved, Kingston C of E Secondary will be the second faith school to open via the Government’s new funding scheme for VA schools. Despite strong local opposition, the first – a Catholic primary school – is set to open in Peterborough next year.
The funding scheme was introduced after faith organisations, such as the Catholic Education Service, objected to the 50% cap on religious selection in free schools and refused to open any new schools as a result. VA schools are permitted to select up to 100% of their pupils on faith grounds and so offered an opportunity for these groups to set up schools with fewer restrictions.
The Church of England has long maintained that it makes little use of religious selection and that its schools are for the whole community. On this basis, critics of the Kingston bid have queried why the Diocese is using this avenue to open new schools. In correspondence seen by Humanists UK, the Diocese argued that DfE criteria for free schools funding – which has recently targeted only areas of low social mobility and educational attainment – means such schools are unlikely to be approved in London. This view is reflected in the Council report on the issue and, if correct, makes it likely that the number of faith schools opening in the capital is set to increase yet further. This is because, in practice, religious organisations are the only ones able to use the VA route.
Read our recent article on anger as council rejects challenge to Catholic school unfairly imposed on newbuild community.
Read our article on data showing the number of pupils attending Church of England schools is more than the entire ‘worshipping community’.
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.