The High Court heard a case last week against the proposed merger of a Church of England school and a school without a religious character into a single Church of England primary. A non-religious family is challenging Somerset County Council’s decision to merge the schools. They argue the complete removal of non-faith school places discriminates against non-religious people.
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson has provided a witness statement supporting the case. In it, he argues the decision will ‘impact disproportionately on the ability of non-Christians to secure a school place and significantly threatens the freedom of religion or belief of families in the local area.’
As part of the Council’s decision to change its three-tiered education system to a two-tiered model, it has proposed to merge Swanmead Community School, the only school of no religious character catering to primary age pupils in the Ilminster area, with Greenfylde Church of England First School. The result will be to create a split-site Church of England primary.
The case argued the decision to merge the schools is discriminatory against those with no religious beliefs. This breaches the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998, it will claim. The case will also say the consultation process was inadequate.
Until recently, Government guidance required local authorities to prioritise faith-based places in decisions to close or merge schools. However, the most recent guidance says decision-makers should instead ‘consider what would best meet the needs of the local community.’ Humanists UK believes this did not happen in the current case.
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:
‘In Somerset, more than half of state-funded primaries are already affiliated with the Church of England. This figure is just 26% nationally. However, the most recent British Social Attitudes Survey shows that 53% of the population are non-religious. That figure rises to 60% in the South of England. Therefore, Somerset County Council’s decision to close the only non-Christian primary in Ilminster is not only hugely damaging to the rights of non-Christians but impossible to justify.
‘We welcome this legal challenge and very much hope it is successful. When schools merge the presumption should always be in favour of maintaining an inclusive ethos that is suitable for children from all backgrounds rather than a religious one that not all families will share.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
Read our most recent article on the High Court case against the faith school takeover in Somerset.
Read more about our work on education and schools.
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