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Church of England primary school could "create divides"
A proposed new Church of England free primary school could "create divides" in Watford, according to a humanist who opposes the scheme.
John Dowdle, president of the Watford Area Humanists, is critical of the proposals to open a faith school in central Watford.
Father David Stevenson, of St John’s Church, in Sutton Road, is spearheading the bid to build a new primary school in the town centre.
Plans are that St John’s Church of England Primary School will be ready to open in September 2015.
However, Mr Dowdle has raised concerns that a religious free school could cause friction in the town, and that it could have a damaging impact on the area’s diversity.
He said: "As a humanist and secularist I just find it ridiculous that we are getting more and more of these schools opening up.
"This will just create divides between people. We call it the United Kingdom and this will disunite people."
However, Father David said that he is responding to the "needs" of the people in the area, many of whom he says are supporting St John’s Church’s application.
Father David said: "The main thing about having the church school is that we are responding to people’s request for church school education.
"We are allowing parents to have a choice. If people want to send their children to a church school then that is their right.
"What tension does it create and how does it split up the community?
"We have the support of people who are from a range of religious backgrounds and we are responding to the needs of the community."
Father David hopes to submit an application for the free school to the Department For Education in May.
While a site as not yet been allocated, intentions are that it will be located near to Central Primary, in Derby Road.
Mr Dowdle said that, while Father David and those leading the campaign may have "good intentions", the management of the school once it is up and running might not be under his control.
He said: "I’m against religious free schools as a matter of general principle. We’ve got an increasingly secular society and yet it seems to be local government policy to promote religious schooling in this country.
"I have nothing against Father David, but this school may not end up being in his control.
"We have had these cases in America where you have these extremist-motivated governors who suddenly start taking a grip on what is taught to their children.
"I’m worried what things could look like down the road and how the curriculum is taught."
Father David said the school will be following the national curriculum and that it will be subject to the same scrutiny as any other school, meaning that it will be visited by education watchdog, Ofsted.
Father David added: "We intend to teach children the national curriculum and educate them on science and give them a full understanding that it doesn’t have to conflict with faith."
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