Head in battle with Church on non-Christians

The Anglican priest who heads one of the most successful Church of England secondary schools has accused the bishops of bowing to "political correctness" over their insistence that non-Christian pupils be admitted.

The Rev Peter Shepherd says he is not prepared to turn away Christian families to admit pupils from families of other faiths.

Pupils at the school, Canon Slade in Bolton, which is heavily oversubscribed, are admitted according to the number of "points" they score for attending church and Sunday school or for their families' connections with the church.

The admissions policy puts the same emphasis on devotion and church attendance as a Roman Catholic school, but the Church of England wants all its schools to be more inclusive.

Canon John Hall, general secretary of the Church's board of education, says schools can retain a Christian ethos through "a core" of pupils given "foundation" places on the basis of their faith, with the rest going to other local children.

The school, a comprehensive with 1,600 pupils where 77 per cent of 16-year-olds gain at least five good GCSEs, is likely to be the testing ground of a new power given to local dioceses in the Education Bill going through Parliament.

When it becomes law later this year, Anglican schools will be under a duty to "have regard" to the views of their dioceses over admissions.

The Rev Shepherd and all but one of his governing body are preparing to defy the Church leadership. He said he had discussed the matter with Dr George Carey, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury.

"The archbishop has said schools should turn away Christian families in order to allow families of other faiths. Why should we change when the Church of England has no real rationale other than political correctness and tokenism?"

But Canon Hall disagrees. Church schools were originally founded to serve the poor within their local communities, he said.

"The role of Christian schools is to nurture those of the Christian faith, to encourage those of other faiths and to challenge those of no religious faith," he added.