‘This decision will be life-changing’: School with half Muslim population to be turned into CofE primary

Parents are urging their council to reject the proposed merger of a non-faith school – where half of the students are Muslim – into a Church of England (CofE) primary school in September.

The proposal would see 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.

The merger has been proposed by the governing bodies of the two schools after they announced they had suffered from falling enrolment across the past three years. The Southwark Diocese Board of Education and Southwark council have supported the proposal and the local authority will make the final decision on the merger.

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

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.

Charlotte Sharman School is the only non-faith school in St George’s ward (Picture: Google Street View)

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, the same way I wouldn’t accept it if it became an Islamic school – that’s not other children’s religion.”

According to St Jude’s School, a Christian ethos is “central to school life” with regular visits to St George the Martyr church and Father Ben Bell lead worship, forming part of the school calendar.

Parents claim that during one consultation meeting it was revealed that St Jude’s came up with the proposal and would not enter the consultation unless it stated the new school was a church school.

A petition, set up by the Southwark National Education Union, has received more than 700 signatures opposing the merger, with the preservation of the school’s secular ethos being the primary point of concern.

Mr Chowdhury’s partner, Subah Khnom, 43, said: “We are a community at the school. My children are happy there, they should be free to learn without ideologies pressured on them. It feels like they’re steam rolling it through without our consent.”

The schools are currently undertaking a consultation on the proposal, but parents who objected more than a month ago said they have not received any response to their concerns or questions.

St Jude’s Primary school will be moved onto the Charlotte Sharman site to create a new CofE primary school (Picture: Google Street View)

Another parent whose daughter attends Charlotte Sharman school, Adrianna Charles, 38, St George’s Road, said: “It’s shocking – we know nothing.

“I chose a non-faith school for my daughter because we don’t practice any religion – that was the main reason.

“My daughter’s confused, she has friends from all religions and is asking me if they are going to have to start praying. I can’t answer her questions because I don’t know what is happening.”

“It’s very difficult with everything else that is happening with cost of living crisis – it’s life changing having to look for another school in such limited time, we don’t know if they will have any spaces.”

Cllr Jasmine Ali, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Children, Education and Refugees, said: “I know how deeply unsettling it must be for staff and families as the two adjacent schools consult on their options.

“I could not comment on any decision until we have considered fully the proposal from the governing bodies based upon their formal consultation, but I want to reassure everyone that our utmost priority is the children and the quality of their education.”

Charlotte Sharman Primary School and St Jude’s Primary School have been approached for comment.

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

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