A new Free School for Headington?

There might be a new primary school coming to Headington. The sponsors are on twitter as @HeadingtonCS and their website says they want to open “a new state-funded primary school with an inclusive Christian ethos”.

The group behind it is Chapel Street Community Schools Trust @ChapelSt, a registered charity chaired by Labour peer Baroness Maeve Sherlock @MaeveSherlock. You can tell them what you think of their proposal by answering their questionnaire, although apart from the first question about the “Christian ethos” all the other questions are asking you to vote for Mom’s apple pie and world peace so the results will be predictable and frankly worthless.

Chapel Street questionnaire
Chapel Street questionnaire

We might query how committed they are to Headington when we see from twitter that they are also interested in opening a school in North Abingdon and a secondary school in Radcliffe (between Manchester and Bolton). All three have virtually identical online brochures.

The company currently runs 7 schools including the Tyndale Community School in Cowley which opened in 2013 – controversially, as the City Council said the premises were unsuitable. The group also came in for criticism in South London in 2014 when it opened a free school with just 12 pupils. The Wimbledon Guardian quoted a local councillor describing the school building – the former home of the Salvation Army in Morden – as “a corrugated iron hut“.

While Baroness Sherlock has impeccable Labour credentials and a track record of involvement in worthy causes (see her entry in Wikipedia), Chapel Street has been criticised by the British Humanist Association for its roots in the Salvation Army which has what might be described at best as an ambivalent attitude to homosexuality and gender issues. Although its public statements are inclusive it is widely reported* that the Army does not recognise single-sex relationships and requires all its unmarried officers to be celibate – which of course means any couple in a same-sex partnership of whatever status in law.

One final comment. As their name suggests Chapel Street likes to call its schools ‘Community Schools’. As the British Humanist Association points out:

[The] schools are not Community schools – a legal term referring to a form of maintained school which does not have a religious character – but are in fact ‘faith’ schools, legally designated as Christian. The BHA complained to the Government about the misleading nature of the schools’ names, but the Government replied saying ‘Free Schools have the freedom to choose the name of their school. We do not dictate to schools what they can or cannot choose.’

If Chapel Street can find somewhere to open their new school (bets on a postcard please – or in the Comments box), the way the law stands there’s every chance they will be able to go ahead.

* See for example Huffington Post (2013), Daily Mirror (2015), Pink News (2014)