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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Proposed CofE Academy for Leicester - letter

22nd April 2003

Dear Mr Andrews

Proposed CofE City Academy for Leicester

We have been approached by a number of our members in Leicester who are opposed to your Council's plans to open new Christian and Islamic schools in the city because of the threat they pose to community cohesion, a position the Society endorses. In particular, we would like the cabinet not to endorse the plans for the City Academy today, as it is reported in the Leicester Mercury is envisaged.

We would also ask the cabinet to withhold its approval because of the widespread doubts about the academy's desirability. At a meeting of the Education and Life Long Learning Committee on 7 April, Councillors expressed concerns that the negative responses to the Council's consultation on the new school had been disregarded. The committee agreed that the City Academy should be opposed until the committee had been produced a more credible strategy. I append a copy of the relevant minutes.

Given that Leicester is ethnically very diverse indeed, it is especially unfortunate if opposition voices have been played down. People realise that separating children in their formative years on grounds of religion is not a good way to encourage community cohesion. Children from all religious and racial backgrounds need to get to know each other at school on a day to day basis if they are every to understand and respect each other. Sending them to separate schools can only add to the suspicion, misunderstanding and prejudice that blights the lives of so many. If the Council let this school go ahead, it will be an irrevocable step towards Leicester's education provision being completely split down religious and therefore often racial lines. It will be the green light for every faith and some sects to have their own schools. That would be a frightening prospect and would eventually destroy the fruits of decades of hard work on race relations in the City.

If the cabinet proceeds to approve the City Academy, at least one of our members proposes to refer the decision to the local Government Ombudsman.

If the Council is determined to proceed with this new City Academy despite the concerns we have expressed, then Council at the very least it needs to be conditional on a strict non-discrimination on grounds of religion (or none) in the admission of pupils or the appointment and promotion of teachers. The undertakings given in this area, reported in the Leicester Mercury on 19/20 April: are couched in suspiciously ambiguous terms: "The plan is to select teachers for the school primarily [i.e. not exclusively] on merit, not faith, and children living in the immediate catchment area [but not elsewhere in the City] would have priority in admissions." Coun Ross Willmott 'assured' readers: "but we have heard from sponsors that it will be inclusive and run for local children". What these statements suspiciously avoid saying is that there will be no religious entry requirements to the school, and that no local children will be denied access to it because they are not of the relevant religion, or if they don't have a religion, nor that there will be no discrimination in the employment of teachers on grounds of religion.

Councillors should withhold approval for the academy unless all the sponsors of the academy give the above undertakings on discrimination in an enforceable and irrevocable written agreement.

We cannot but reflect on the irony that a major sponsor of the new City Academy is the Church of England, in whose churches attendance have been falling for the last 75 years. Nationally, less than 2% of the population attend a CofE church on an average Sunday, and the figure is almost certainly materially lower in Leicester.

I look forward to hearing from you and am happy to answer any questions you have.

Yours sincerely,

Keith Porteous Wood
Executive Director

Monday, 7 April 2003 6:30 pm, Education and Lifelong Learning Scrutiny Committee

Minutes:

City Academy school [only last few paragraphs reproduced]

The Committee expressed particular concerns that, although the Consultant's report indicated that there were negative and positive responses to the proposal of establishing a City Academy, the negative concerns had not been addressed in the Consultant's report, and there was nothing to substantiate why the desired benefits would come to fruition. Members referred to the acknowledged need to improve the standard of schools in the city, but stated that the report didn't address this, and that there was a need for a credible, citywide strategy, in order to provide a context for the proposals.

Councillor Soulsby, seconded by Councillor Johnson, moved the following suggested resolution:

That the proposal to establish a City Academy be opposed until a credible, Citywide strategy for raising educational standards has been produced and considered by the Scrutiny Committee.

The matter was put to the vote and was carried.

NATIONAL SECULAR SOCIETY