Plans to merge school with half Muslim population into CofE primary school scrapped after opposition

Plans to merge a secular school, where half of the students are Muslim, into a Church of England school have been aborted after months of campaigning from parents, teachers and unions.

The proposal would have seen the CofE St Jude’s School in Colnbrook Street, Elephant and Castle, moved on to the site of the non-faith Charlotte Sharman School in St George’s Street, Elephant and Castle, to create a new CofE primary School.

Plans were led by the governing bodies of the two schools after they announced they had suffered from falling enrolment across the past three years, with a consultation launched in January.

But today St Jude’s announced the merger would not go ahead. 

In a letter to parents, the school said the move was “no longer in the best interests of staff and pupils” due to opposition throughout the consultation period as well as a review of its finances.

St Jude’s Primary school would have been moved on to the Charlotte Sharman site to create a new CofE primary school (Picture: Google Street View)

The letter, signed by the chairwoman of governors, Siobhan Aarons, said: “The primary driver of governors throughout this proposal has been to ensure a strong and sustainable offer of Church of England education for the pupils in the area. 

“St Jude’s continues to manage its resources exceptionally well, despite the low pupil numbers.”

Ms Aarons said the school’s financial reserves would allow it to set budgets for the next three-year period until 2027/28.

Campaigners who have been fighting the move since January have welcomed the decision with “relief”.

Just this week, the National Secular Society (NSS) sent a letter to Southwark council’s deputy leader, Jasmine Ali, highlighting a survey of parents at Charlotte Sharman found 80 per cent of respondents opposed the move.

In February, Sahinur Chowdhury, 46, who has two children at Charlotte Sharman Primary School, told the South London Press: “As parents we chose this school because it was open to all faiths and now that is being changed without our say.”

Subah Khnom with her two children, who are pupils at Charlotte Sharman School (Picture: Subah Khnom)

Charlotte Sharman is the only non-faith school in the St George’s ward in Elephant and Castle. Half of the children at the school are from a Muslim background and a further 17 per cent come from families of no faith.

Mr Chowdhury’s family is Muslim, he grew up in a Muslim household but went to a CofE school as a child.

He said: “I lost touch with my own faith because it was something that was at home, but in school I was being taught something else. That was a contradiction I had to grapple with and had an impact for a lot of my life.

“I don’t feel comfortable with a single faith being imposed on my children.”

A petition, set up by the Southwark National Education Union in January, received more than 900 signatures opposing the merger, with the preservation of the school’s secular ethos being the primary point of concern.

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: “We are relieved that the plans to effectively allow the Church of England to take over Charlotte Sharman Primary School have been cancelled.

“No school merger should come at the expense of a school’s inclusive, secular ethos – especially when parents clearly reject faith-based education.”

Pictured top: Charlotte Sharman Foundation Primary School (Picture: NSS)

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