Council green lights gifting of community school to faith school provider

March 21, 2020

Surrey County Council is to press ahead with plans to close a Church of England infant school and a nearby community infant and nursery school, and for a new voluntary aided Church of England school to open on the site of the larger community school. This is despite the Council revealing last week that 63% of respondents to a consultation about the proposals opposed them, with only 26% in favour.

The Council put forward the plan in response to a declining pupil roll in the local area and particularly at the smaller Christ Church Infant School in Virginia Water. The proposals involve the larger Englefield Green Infant School and Nurseries in nearby Englefield closing and the site being gifted to the Diocese of Guildford for it to operate a voluntary aided school. The Diocese has stated that the new school would not operate a religiously discriminatory admissions policy for September 2021, but has not made a commitment beyond that date.

The Accord Coalition responded to the consultation, which closed last month. Most of Accord’s comments corrected an assumption in the Council’s plan that a new Church of England school would be religiously inclusive because ‘the Church of England is clear that its schools are not faith schools for the faithful, but church schools for the community  Church schools seek to offer an experience of Christian community but do not proselytize’.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Revd Stephen Terry, said ‘Many in the Church of England would like their schools to be religiously inclusive, but all too often its state funded schools are found to engage in religiously exclusive practices, whether in the curriculum, in employment or in admission policies. This is highlighted by the Christ Church Infant School which, like many other Church schools in the local dioceses, operates a religiously selective over-subscription policy. Accord continues to urge the local authority to only progress school reorganisation plans that will increase religious inclusivity in the local school system, which this current plan fails to do.’

Surrey County Council’s decision to press ahead with the proposed scheme has been taken by its lead member for children’s services and means the Council and local diocese have subsequently published statutory notices to close the two schools and open a new school on the Englefield Green site. A further period of consultation now follows, with the Leader of the County Council due to make a final decision on 12th May. Residents may respond to the consultation and record their view on the plans here.

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