An evangelical Church schools’ network plans to open a voluntary grammar school in Northern Ireland.
The OneSchool Global network, which was established by the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, is behind the proposal.
It already runs two schools in Northern Ireland – in Newry, County Down, and Knockloughrim in County Londonderry.
It plans to combine both schools as one post-primary, although they will continue to operate on separate sites.
The proposals have been published by the Education Authority (EA).
The two existing schools would combine to become a voluntary grammar school for 100 pupils aged 11-18.
It would have one principal and one board of governors.
The new school would not, though, use academic selection to admit pupils and would also continue to run feeder primary schools on both sites.
‘Principle of separation’
The Plymouth Brethren Christian Church dates back to 1827.
According to the Church’s core doctrine, believers regard the Old and New Testament “as being the inspired and infallible word of God”.
They also practise the principle of separation – “drawing away from the world in a moral sense” – although communication and interaction with non-Brethren is permitted.
OneSchool Global runs 23 independent schools in the UK, and is part of the OneSchool Global network, which is also supported by the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.
Fifty-one post-primary pupils currently attend the Knockloughrim school, while 33 post-primary pupils go to the Newry campus.
Some travel from as far as County Dublin to attend the Newry school, while the Knockloughrim school attracts pupils from Belfast and Derry.
Pupils study subjects from the Northern Ireland curriculum and sit qualifications like GCSEs, but the school ethos is based on the Plymouth Brethren Christian faith.
“The school ethos will be faith-based in accordance with the Plymouth Brethren religious community, but will be open to applicants from other faiths and none,” states the plan for the new combined school.
“The proposed school will uphold Christian values but it will be non-denominational in status.”
The school governors “are acting, not just for both schools but also for a wider community of Christian parents and families; some, but by no means all, are of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.
“They feel strongly that they are denied the right to have their children attend a grant-aided school in keeping with their religious convictions whilst other parents are entitled to have their children educated in fully state-financed schools.
“This proposal is asserted under the law of the same jurisdiction in the context of a claim for equality of treatment for all children and families, regardless of their parents’ profession of faith.”
Department of Education’s final decision
The existing two schools are inspected by the Education and Training Inspectorate but are not currently funded by the Department of Education.
That would change if the proposal for the new combined voluntary grammar is approved.
“The Plymouth Brethren Community, in accordance with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights legislation, wish to have recognition as a grant-aided faith school serving their religious faith community while recognizing that such a school would have places available for pupils beyond this Church fellowship,” states the proposal.
However, a final decision on whether the plans will proceed will have to be made by the Department of Education.
Although the vast majority of grammar schools do use academic selection tests, a voluntary grammar is ultimately defined by its management structure.
It is run by a board of governors who are the employers of staff, rather than employing authorities like the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) and the EA.
Main image copyright: Getty Images
Written by: Robbie Meredith
First published 27.11.19: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-50563485