In the battle to save Weston Primary School, this release in from the National Secular Society (NSS). Ed
The NSS has backed a local campaign to save the only non-religious school in the west of the Isle of Wight.
Isle of Wight Council is planning to shut Weston Primary, the only community school in a twelve mile radius, because of a surplus of places, leaving two faith schools open. Only 7.5% of Weston parents would be happy to send their children to them.
Jeremy Cangialosi, who has three children at Weston, told the NSS, “It’s the only community school in the whole area – so it would mean a complete loss of non-faith schooling and would force parents to send their children to religious schools.”
Ofsted has judged standards at Weston Primary to be significantly higher than the two faith schools also considered for closure.
Council made aware of implications
The NSS has written to the Council pointing out the legal implications of reducing diversity of provision and denying parents the choice to send their children to a non-faith school.
The Council and Church of England Diocese of Portsmouth said they will support the change of All Saints Primary from a voluntary controlled school to a trust school. This may enable greater local community representation on the board of governors but does nothing to affect the school’s religious character.
Community school in all but name?
The Church of England has made clear its intention to ensure their religious ethos flows through all school subjects. The latest Church of England inspection report for All Saints Primary quotes pupils saying “We think about Jesus a lot”.
This contradicts the claim made by the Chair of Governors that “All Saints is a community school in all but name”.
The NSS has also raised concerns that information published by the Council may have misled those responding to the school closure consultation.
Statutory guidance on the closure of maintained schools states that it should not unreasonably extend journey times or increase transport costs. However, a survey of local parents with children at Weston found that 37.5% said they would either have to relocate, home school or travel to Newport, some 12 miles away.
Stephen Evans, Campaigns Manager at the National Secular Society commented, “It is clear that the closure of the only community school in the area will cause real and significant hardship to parents who are not prepared to have their children taught in a school with a religious ethos.”
“The strength with which many non-religious parents hold such convictions should not be underestimated.”
Special protection for faith schools
To justify closing the sole community school in the area, Isle of Wight Council have cited statutory guidance that gives faith schools special protections. It states that decision-makers “should not normally approve the closure of a school with a religious character where the proposal would result in a reduction in the proportion of denominational places in the area.”
Stephen Evans commented, “The guidance clearly does not rule out the closure of such schools. This is not a ‘normal’ situation as the closure of Weston would completely eradicate primary school provision for the non-religious – and all other non-Christians in the area.
“Again we see an excellent community school being sacrificed so that faith schools are protected – and again it is the non-religious who lose out. The closure of Weston school would effectively force children into religious schools and that is simply unacceptable.”
Image: © Jeremy Cangialosi