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Faith ethos for third of new Free Schools

20 July 2012

PATRICK OLNER

Lord, dismiss us: more than 600 pupils about to end their last term in primary school had a special service in Llandaff Cathedral on Tuesday

Lord, dismiss us: more than 600 pupils about to end their last term in primary school had a special service in Llandaff Cathedral on Tuesday

ABOUT 30 of the 100 new Free Schools announced by the Government at the end of last week have a Christian or other faith ethos. Six have an Anglican designation (see story below); a further ten stem from a range of Christian backgrounds, which include St Andrew the Apostle Greek Orthodox School, in Enfield; St Anthony's, Cinderford, a former fee-paying school with Roman Catholic links; and Sevenoaks Christian School, a comprehensive for 1200 pupils, planned by a group of 23 local churches, more than half of which are Anglican.

Exemplar-Newark Business Academy, Nottinghamshire; Hope Community School, Bexley; Riverside School, Barking; Tyndale Commun-ity School, Oxford; and Wye School, Kent, are associated with Evangelical free churches. Oasis Community School, Waterloo, in London, is backed by the non-denominational Oasis charity; and Southend YMCA community school is described as "alternative provision". All Saints' Primary, in Devon, a recently closed CE voluntary aided school, is to continue as a parent-led Free School.

Widely reported allegations by the British Humanist Association that Creationism was to be taught at Exemplar-Newark Business Academy and Sevenoaks Christian School were rebutted this week by a Department for Education spokeswoman. "The school will be allowed to teach Creationism only in RE lessons and only as one of several belief systems, certainly not as fact," she said. The Rector of Chevening, the Revd Chris Smith, who chaired the Sevenoaks planning group, also rejected the allegation. "Of course, Free Schools cannot teach Creationism. That was never our intention," he said.

Other faith Free Schools in the announcement include three new Jewish schools - in Leeds and north and south London; the Collective Spirit "faith-sensitive" school in Oldham; four Sikh schools in west London, Leeds, and Slough; and four Muslim schools in Nottingham, Calderdale, Blackburn, and Hackney.

SIX of the 100 new Free Schools will have C of E designation, writes Margaret Holness. Four are in London, one is in Bristol, and another is in Chester. All are to open in September next year. Two of the London schools will focus on special-needs provision.

Bristol Cathedral Primary School has been sponsored by the Cathed-ral School, which was in the independent sector before being selected as one of the first Free Schools two years ago.

Chester Cathedral Primary's sponsor is Chester University Academy Trust. The diocesan director of education, Canon Jeff Turnbull, a member of the Trust, said that it would be a one-form-entry school. The former diocesan retreat house is being adapted for it.

Although it will specialise in music, only a few places would be reserved for children with marked musical ability: most places would be open-admission, he said. "There is a real shortage of primary places in the city centre."

Two of the new Free Schools in London, Fulham Boys' School, a secondary, and St Mary's Primary, Hampton, will be new institutions. London Diocesan Schools Board was involved in both applications, its director of schools support services, Liz Wolverson, said. They will have a C of E designation.

"London is the only Church of England diocese to have sponsored Free Schools in the three bidding rounds, and we are delighted that each proposal has been recognised as meeting a local need," said the acting diocesan director of education, Inigo Woolf.

The proposal for Fulham Boys' School came from parents, while the new primary was sponsored by St Mary's PCC. The Revd Derek Winterburn, Vicar of St Mary's, said that the one-form-entry school would be based in a disused local-authority school. "It will serve a disadvantaged area of Hampton, where there is a serious shortage of school places."

The two new C of E Free special schools are among only five approved by the DfE nationally. St Marylebone Bridge School was proposed by St Marylebone Academy, Westminster, and the Courtyard School by St Mary Magdalene Academy, Islington. Both have strong support from their local authorities.

"The Bridge School's pupils will educate children from Years 7-13 who have statements of special need for moderate learning difficulties," the head teacher of St Marylebone's, Elizabeth Phillips, said. "There will be 12 in each year-group." Although the curriculum would concentrate on literacy, numeracy, and IT skills, the pupils would also be encouraged to take part in the academy's arts programme. The new school is likely to use accommodation at St Marylebone Parish Church.

The Courtyard School, with 38 places for 15-18s on the autistic spectrum, will open in the former Coroner's Court opposite St Mary Magdalene Academy, the principal, Paul Hollingum, said. "It will be fully integrated with the Academy, with all our courses open to Courtyard students." Each student would have a key worker to be a link between home and school, and be provided with paid or voluntary employment for a year after leaving school, he said.

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