Controversial plans to open up conservative Christian school slammed by campaigners
Controversial plans to open up a conservative Christian school site in the Bucks countryside have been slammed by a leading humanist charity – amid claims children are at risk of “narrowly religious and extremely insular” education.
A new primary and secondary school site in Cadmore End could be built for the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church – a hard-line Christian fellowship which the majority of members are born into.
They believe homosexuality is immoral, women must pray with head scarves on so they do not cause themselves “shame” and are also “concerned” about the “corrupting or damaging” effect of TV and radio on children.
The new school plans, which would replace an equestrian centre on Chequers Lane, have been criticised by Humanists UK, a charity which campaigns against faith schools, as well as nearby residents.
If given the green light, the new schools would feature a gym and new sports pitches and would cater for 275 pupils aged between seven and 18.
All the pupils at the school would be brought into the site each morning and taken home each evening by a fleet of 26 minibuses – which the applicant says would see much less congestion than if parents dropped them at school themselves.
Nearby residents have complained that Chequers Lane is already “incredibly busy” and argued a new school site would make the situation worse.
Objecting to the plans, Simon Thomas, wrote: “Over the years there have been several fatal accidents on or very close to the junctions of Bigmore Lane and Chequers Lane. The hidden dip approaching these junctions is extremely dangerous.
“When the M40 has any delays the road is used as a rat run through to Marlow increasing traffic even further.
"As this school is a religious sect organisation and there would be few if any places available to local children, the danger of the road and increased traffic far outweighs any benefits to the local community.”
Another resident, Amanda Whyte, added: “My concerns are that this development will negatively impact on the local community/environment in terms of noise, increased traffic and extra waste, with no benefit to the local community.
“The Plymouth Brethren are known for being an insular religious sect and local children will be unlikely to take up places at this school.
“Moreover, there are few of any Plymouth Brethren living locally to Cadmore End, and the proposed idea of bussing children in daily from as far away as Bicester seems unfair on kids who are likely to spend large chunks of their formative years stuck in traffic on the M40.”
The planning application has been submitted by the Ealing Educational Resources Trust (EERT), but publicly-available documents say the schools will be used by the church.
The applicants say the children will be brought into the new site from different church hall pick-up points out of the area.
They say the new schools are needed “urgently” because their nearby Stoke Poges site has been purchased by the government and needs to be vacated by the end of 2019 and another in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, has become “unviable”.
They therefore want the new schools to open on September 1 next year.
Humanists UK director of public affairs and policy, Richy Thompson, said the plans for the new school had “alarmed” the charity, saying they “worry about whether children in such schools receive the broad and balanced education to which their rights should entitle them.”
He said: ‘The education these schools provide is narrowly religious and extremely insular, meaning it is entirely inadequate for preparing students for modern British life.
“Many Brethren groups are creationist and we have ongoing concerns that the science curriculum they teach goes against proposed new standards for independent schools.
“The Brethren view of sex as corrupting and homosexuality as immoral also risks harm to pupils’ wellbeing and is not an appropriate part of the personal, social, health and economic education that students should be taught.
“In Brethren communities, children are also often denied meaningful access to modern technology, including computers and television, and as a result of this restrictive form of schooling, young people often find it extremely difficult to leave the religion, even when they want to.”
A spokesman for the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church said they were aware of the pending application but added that it would be “inappropriate” to comment further while it is going through the planning process.
They said: “If the application is successful this will be an independent school affiliated to Focus Learning Trust which provides progressive educational support to its network of 28 schools.”
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