School merger to make all schools in Southwark ward religious

16 February, 2024

A proposal to merge two Elephant and Castle primary schools: Charlotte Sharman Primary School and St Jude’s Church of England Primary School has come up against substantial opposition to the potential loss of the only non-faith school in St George’s Ward, Southwark. 

More than 600 people have voiced their concerns about the loss of Charlotte Sharman’s non-faith status which would follow as a result of the merger, in a petition started by the Southwark branch of the National Education Union (NEU). 

Southwark Council’s proposal to merge both schools comes as a result of declining roll numbers. According to the petition Charlotte Sharman Primary is at 78% capacity with 134 pupils, while St Jude’s is at 31% with 81. However the proposal would see the merged school based on the Charlotte Sharman site while retaining the Church of England status of St Jude’s.

Humanists UK, which has long campaigned for a fully inclusive state education system that is suitable for all pupils regardless of background, has expressed concern at the proposal and the implications it could have on its school admissions and employment policies, and the teaching of Religious Education (RE). As a faith school, the merged school would be able to prioritise its pupils and staff based on their religion, and RE would be taught from a Christian perspective and not be pluralistic as required in a maintained school.

According to Office of National Statistics data, 38% of the population of St George’s ward identify as having no religion, 37.3% identify as Christian, and 12.7% identify as Muslim. The NEU petition states that ‘over 50% of the children in our school [Charlotte Sharman Primary] are Muslim and a further 17% have no faith’. 

The ward is also listed as one of the more deprived wards in the borough. A recent Sutton Trust report found that faith schools are less likely to admit disadvantaged pupils than other schools. 

Humanists UK’s Education Campaigns Manager Lewis Young said:

‘We’re incredibly disappointed with Southwark Council’s proposal to merge two primary schools in St George’s ward at the expense of the ward’s only non-faith primary school. Clearly a decision needs to be made about how to tackle declining roll numbers across both schools, but this shouldn’t be to the detriment of pupils from a non-religious or non-Christian background.

‘Not only can faith schools give preference to children from families that share their religion, but they can prioritise staff and promotions based on faith too. Pupils, staff, and the wider community will lose out if this proposal goes ahead.’

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For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at or phone 020 3675 0959.

Read more about our work on state-funded faith schools.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 120,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.