Writer and financier get go-ahead for new schools

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The Independent Online

Fears that the Government's "free" schools programme will be dominated by faith groups and create more segregation between religions were re-ignited yesterday. Five of the first 16 schools announced by Education Secretary Michael Gove will be faith-orientated – two Jewish, one Hindu, one Sikh and one Christian.

In two other cases, organisers say there will be a strong Christian influence but the school will not officially be a faith school. Two of the projects are proposed by the education charity ARK, which was set up by the hedge fund millionaire Arpad Busson. The author Toby Young was also given the green light for his proposal for a secondary school in Acton, west London, which will concentrate on the classics – every child will be expected to learn Latin at least up to GCSE level.

Under the Government's plans, parents, teachers, charities and faith groups are being encouraged to put in bids to run their own schools with state financial support. They will be able to determine their own curriculum and be free of local authority controls, but the British Humanist Association warned yesterday that they would also be free to promote religious intolerance.

Andrew Copson, its chief executive, said the schools would have "complete power over what they teach, with no safeguards to ensure that myth and misinformation do not dominate the curriculum".

"We have long raised concerns about the teaching of creationism and religiously distorted sex education in traditional 'faith' schools," he said, adding that the proposals would lead to "greater segregation and deeper divisions within communities".

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, added: "The Secretary of State suggests that he wants 'free' schools to be engines of social mobility, but in many cases the free schools announced so far will only fragment communities and lead to greater social segregation and separation."

However, the five faith schools given the green light yesterday have all promised that 50 per cent of their places will be open to non-faith applicants. What is not clear is what will happen if they fail to attract pupils from outside their faith.

There are two Jewish primary schools, one in Mill Hill in north-west London and the other in Haringey, north London. A five-to-11 Hindu primary school is being planned in Leicester, which will be only the second Hindu state school in the country. The Nishkam Education trust is also planning an all-through Sikh state school in Handsworth, Birmingham.

The fifth faith school is proposed by St Luke's Church in Camden, north London, as a Church of England school. Campaigners for the project say there is a shortage of primary school places in the borough and insist there school will be inclusive.

In announcing the programme yesterday, Mr Gove stressed that the 16 schools "represent a diverse mix". He said: "There are parent-led, community-led, sponsor-led and teacher-led proposals. There are faith and non-faith proposals, there are proposals for large secondary schools small primary schools."

The remaining projects include a plan to open the first state-aided Montessori school for four-to-11-year-olds in Crawley, West Sussex. The Montessori method of teaching concentrates more on play and activities than teaching for tests.

Another candidate is the Priors Marston and Priors Hardwick school in Warwickshire, an independent primary school which has been kept open through donations since the local authority decided to close it 10 years ago.

Sajid Hussain, a science teacher, has also won support for opening a science academy in his home town of Bradford. He said his aim was to make "a difference to the education of the very poorest".

"Most families in inner-city Bradford are fed up," he said. "They have had the same three or four schools to choose from for the last 10 to 15 years."