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SCHOOL CAMPAIGN: Making the Case for a New Secular Free School in Barnet

Dear Councillor Edwards,

I am writing to you as one of your constituents, taking a keen interest in the school admission policies in our area. Indeed I am a recent member of the British Humanist Association, and am concerned about the discriminatory nature of religious schools as a whole. However I would like to appeal to you directly and immediately regarding the current bid for a new Church of England school in High Barnet, which I believe will be socially divisive to your constituency.

Having read about this bid in this article, I am concerned that the already socially divisive landscape of religious schools in our area will be further exacerbated by the opening of yet another institution. Unlike some local primary school's such as St Catherine's which only considers applications from families who claim to have a religious background, I am aware that the application for the new Church of England Free School is open to those of a non-religious background. This is an advance of a kind, but begs the question as to why any form of religious selection ought to be applied to this school. Surely a secular school environment fosters the critical thinking and openness to educating Barnet's children about all faiths which we ought to encourage in 2014.

I am quite sure that thers is no current plan for this CofE free school to discriminate against other religions or indeed the nonreligious. However, the precedent dictates that such schools eventually become divisive. To quote Terry Lilley the Chair of the Harrow Humanists "The C of E London Diocesan Board for Schools' official policy is to allow 100% non-selected admissions but, nonetheless, it strongly supports the Bishop Ramsey Free school Bid in which the school has decided to select 25% of places". Indeed, the precedent for CofE schools is, as with other religious institutions, to gradually begin selecting from their own parish, or otherwise dividing along religious lines. 

The research is clear in this matter: as with other faith schools CofE shools end up admitting children who are already socially advantaged and giving them a further boost by segregating them from other social groups. To quote from the British Humanist Association website
  • For Church of England schools, 74% of primaries and 65.5% of secondaries take fewer pupils eligible for FSM than the average in their local authority (LA); 63.5% of primaries and 40% of secondaries take fewer pupils than the average in their post code.

There is no need for another primary school which identifies small children first and foremost by their religion. The excellent, OFSTED-inspected Religious Education curriculum as taught in non-faith schools allows children an excellent understanding of the range of religions in their community, which can be discussed and reviewed by all the denominations of that community, rather than just the Church of England. Not only are they less divisive, but secular schools actually provide a better education in religious and ethical matters than their religious counterparts.

The alternative bid for a new school in Barnet is the Ara School, recently described as 'very impressive' by Barnet Council (http://www.araschool.org/). I strongly urge you to consider this ambitious alternative in international education to what will otherwise be yet another opportunity for religious segregation in our borough.

Respectfully submitted,

DK

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