Setting up Christian schools that will preach and proclaim the Bible is well within the grasp of ordinary Christians from all walks of life, and is instrumental in evangelising the nation, according to the founders of a heavily oversubscribed evangelical secondary school in west London.
Alex Wade, chairman of Fulham Boys School (FBS), told delegates at a recent conference that a multi-academy trust, Charles Spurgeon Schools, can help other interested Christians do the same in their communities.
He said churches are not the only environment to evangelise the nation, and schools have a real part to play in introducing not only children, but also parents, teachers, governors and community leaders to the teachings of Jesus Christ. School buildings tend to be empty on Sunday and doors could be thrown open for local church groups.
An incredible opportunity
He said: ‘It’s a perfect fit. The free school programme has been an incredible opportunity and I had so hoped that up and down the country Christians would rise to the challenge and help set this up, to help re-evangelise this nation, and sadly, that opportunity has been entirely lost’.
FBS itself opened in 2014 after several years of groundwork by a group of local parents, including Mr Wade, who believed there was a clear gap in the borough for a high quality secondary boys’ school with a clear parent-led ethos and vision.
Six years ago he approached the government with a proposal to open the school: ‘On paper it looked absolutely ridiculous. There are two large secondary schools within a mile of us, one is a boys’ school and one is a co-ed school, both sitting on real estate values of more than £25million, both half empty. This borough has the fastest growing number of people sending their children to private education. So for all those reasons there was absolutely no need on paper for the Fulham Boys School’.
Too exciting to ignore
But, with three boys of his own, the local offering six years ago was not one he wanted for them, plus he felt he had outgrown youth work. He said: ‘So the chance to open a Christian school simply seemed too exciting to ignore, and fortunately that coincided with the launch of the free school programme.’
Along with nine other families, many months were spent deciding on the school they wanted. While a faith school may not be for everyone Mr Wade said he believed in choice. FBS’s popularity means it has 650 applications for 120 places, meaning, he said, that ‘faith schools are still popular, and if popular in Fulham I’m absolutely convinced they must be in other parts of country too, and if we can help get some more set up, that will be brilliant.’
Unlike centrally-managed state schools, free schools, which were rolled out by the coalition government, are run independently by non-profit groups, and while funds are received by central government, they operate completely outside its control. FBS teachers create their own curriculum and the school compiles its own schemes of work.
Need must be demonstrated
Mr Wade said: ‘Anyone can put together a proposal for setting up a school in their community, anyone. And I’m hoping some people here would, or maybe you may know some people who might’.
Any prospective proposal must be able to demonstrate demand, to make absolutely sure it will be full. A very strong case must be made that the existing provision is poor: ‘You have to find three times the number of people to sign that they will send their children to you in two years’ time. That’s asking quite a lot with no buildings’.
Need must also be demonstrated. All local authorities have an obligation to analyse the need for schools and this is on their website, often buried deep but you can find it. Mr Wade said: ‘It doesn’t mean to say it can’t be challenged, or changed, or argued. If you’re in an area with no obvious need, it’s going to be slightly more challenging than others’. Government must also see evidence that those who will run the school are responsible and reasonable.
Expertise to help
Mr Wade said it was not as much work as might be thought. A serious bid will be considered, and the best will win. Each school will be different and will reflect the community, but FBS has the expertise to do the vast majority of the work, the educational vision, and the accounts: ‘We can work with any local group to help them put together a lot of that bid themselves’.
A local core group, necessary to make those plans a reality, will need to include an architect, legal, finance, marketing, PR, an educationalist, and someone to liaise with primary schools and community. The government will expect a proper core professional group: ‘You want the best people in that team, going beyond the Christian community shouldn’t worry you. You need that professional team’.
FBS headmaster Alan Ebenezer said: ‘This is a once in a generation opportunity. We have been posted at this point in history at this place, like Esther, for such a time as this. I would hate to read in Christian journals and magazines how bad education is and how bad Ofsted are, and young people, when we haven’t done anything about it. We’ve got a chance now’.
Delegate Geoffery Maine from Sussex said: ‘Key point I’ve come away with is that anything is possible if the Lord makes a way, but how important and inspirational a headteacher and a supportive chairman of governors is’.