Closing non-faith Wigan school may be unlawful, NSS warns
Posted: Tue, 14 Dec 2021
The closure of a community school in Wigan may be unlawful, the National Secular Society has cautioned.
Wigan council plans to reduce excess school places by closing either Abram Bryn Gates primary community school or Holy Family Catholic primary school.
In a consultation response on proposed school reorganisation, the NSS said the loss of secular provision resulting from closing Abram Bryn Gates may result in Wigan Council being in breach of their obligation to provide pupils with a suitable education.
The Education Act 1996 places a duty on local authorities to provide schools sufficient in number and character to provide for all pupils the opportunity of "appropriate education."
The response also highlighted the significant risk of undermining human rights, particularly Article 9 of the Human Rights Act which protects the right to freedom of thought, belief and religion.
NSS research has shown that 81% of postcodes in Wigan experience high or extreme restrictions on the choice of a non-faith primary school. This affects 90% of postcodes in the Abram ward – a figure that would approach 100% if Abram Bryn Gate were to close, as five of its nearest six schools are faith-based. This would leave many families with no choice but a faith school.
NSS head of education, Alastair Lichten, said:
"Far too many families in Abram and across Wigan, already have no choice but a faith school. Increasing this problem by closing Abram Bryn Gates would raise serious questions about the council's legal obligation to ensure adequate school provision.
"All pupils should have reasonable access to a local schools organised around an inclusive community ethos, rather than a religious belief that they may not share."
The NSS has been supporting families campaigning against the closure of the community school. One local resident told the NSS:
"Closing this school would not only devastate pupils and staff but rip the heart out of the community too. Choice of non-faith schools is already limited for parents."
Another parent commented:
"My children love this community school, the alternative options are miles away and are faith schools. I want my children to make their own decisions with regard to religion, rather than have it forced down their throats at a young age."
What the NSS stands for
The Secular Charter outlines 10 principles that guide us as we campaign for a secular democracy which safeguards all citizens' rights to freedom of and from religion.