Minimum churchgoing requirement to be part of Woodham Ferrers school’s new admission policy

Parents will be told how long they may expect to have to worship in church in order to give their children the best chance of getting into a C of E primary school in Chelmsford, following a determination by the schools adjudicator.

But this may only be relevant if numbers pick up enough. St Mary’s Primary School in Woodham Ferrers only has 46 students in the school altogether, and is accepting just 14 new starters each year.

Adjudicator Phil Whiffing has ruled that without a specific period parents will not know whether their length of worship at St Mary’s Church, Woodham Ferrers or St Andrew’s Church, Bicknacre, will be enough to get their children into St Mary’s Primary School.

It comes a year after Berlesduna Academy Trust took over as the approved sponsor for the school – that had been threatened with closure due to low pupil numbers.

Mr Whiffing has suggested that it would normally be sufficient to require monthly attendance for perhaps one or two years prior to the closing date for applications.

As a school with religious character, St Mary’s may use faith-based over-subscription criteria. These must ensure that “parents can easily understand how any faith-based criteria will be reasonably satisfied.”

Priority for St Mary’s is given first for looked-after and previously looked-after children, followed by children with siblings at the school, children living in the priority admission area and parents “actively involved” at named churches.

However, the current arrangements do not say how long monthly attendance at worship should have been sustained in order to meet the fourth over-subscription criterion and so parents may not understand easily how this criterion may be met.

Without defining how long monthly attendance must be sustained, the arrangements give the same level of priority to a child whose parent may have attended worship monthly from September 2021 to December 2021, as to a child whose parent may have attended monthly for their whole life or another whose parent attended monthly for an indeterminate period some years ago.

A parent who has worshipped monthly for their whole life could consider it unfair that a child living closer to the school whose parent had started to worship very recently has greater priority for a place than their child.

Any unfairness would be felt more acutely if the new worshipper stopped attending church after places had been offered, added Mr Whiffing.

In his determination, he stated: “Without stating how long monthly worship must be sustained for, parents will not know whether their worship meets the required level and unfairness could arise.

“To meet the requirements of the code it would normally suffice to require monthly attendance for perhaps one or two years prior to the closing date for applications or for another clearly defined period.

“This determination will require the trust to set such a period and in doing so the trust will need to bear in mind that places of worship have at times been closed due to Covid-19 restrictions during the past year.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter

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