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A Free School?

For the last couple of years, three FIEC churches in London have been working together to try and set up a secondary school in Croydon. One of those churches is Selhurst Evangelical – and they would like to set up a primary school too – as Rob Pickering explains.

A Free School? primary image

Our desire to start a primary and secondary faith school in Croydon might not seem strategic at first glance.

There are lots of lost people to reach and we are passionate about mission, so why spend our time on this?

I’ll answer that question in two ways.

First of all I will answer as a pastor. People here really want to see educational provision built upon the Christian faith and my passion for it comes from the need I see across Croydon. Our team have spoken to hundreds of parents, including church families and those across the wider community, and the message is loud and clear. Parents want more church schools – open to all faiths or none – and the support is incredibly strong for a school like ours. On top of that, the results of good faith-based schools speak for themselves. It’s an incredible opportunity to impact lives now and for eternity.

Secondly I can answer as a parent. Faith schools here would provide amazing opportunities for kids like mine. We all want our children to have an excellent education and that motivates me to get involved. I want us to do free schools really well because as Christians we want to be a good witness and provide the best education possible. We also believe schooling should be about the whole child, not just about the subjects they learn. Preparing them for life beyond school – and life beyond life!

So here at Selhurst Evangelical Church we have got a big vision for two faith schools – a primary and a secondary.

Two Schools

Our primary school application has gone to the Department for Education and has been well received, but at this stage Croydon Council have said they don’t have a need. That doesn’t mean it is a closed door, but it does mean we have to work harder to show the need to our Local Authority.

The problem we have is that there is a difference between demand and need. Although local people say there’s a demand for more faiths schools the local council say there is no need. They say they can provide enough places to meet the needs but the question is, does it really meet the need? Whilst new schools are being opened in Croydon the sticking point is the type of schools that are opening. They are not meeting local demands and many parents of other faiths and no faith do not subscribe to the ethos of these new schools. That has led to ever-growing support for our project. We are praying for a meeting with the Cabinet Member for Children Services to discuss this very issue.

school posters

Our plans for a secondary school are being driven locally by the Croydon Gospel Partnership, which includes two other FIEC churches – Thornton Heath and Lansdowne. It’s been hugely encouraging to partner together in such a project and shared resources have made a significant difference.

Together we have been working hard to gain encouraging backing from parents and in addition we have received surprisingly strong support from Primary Head Teachers. They long to see some healthy competition in the borough and have totally embraced our ethos. One executive head said “I’m not religious, but as I look at the intake across the eight schools in our trust, many children are from religious families. Croydon is fertile soil for a school like yours.”

An example and a partner

For both of the above projects we have enlisted the help of The Fulham Boys School (FBS) which is an existing free school built upon the Christian faith. Alun Ebenezer is the headteacher and Alex Wade is the Chairman of Governors. They, along with the team at FBS, have massive educational expertise and they have already travelled the road of opening an incredibly successful free school. By God’s grace, it continues to be oversubscribed year after year. One visit and you’ll be greatly inspired!

uniforms at FBS

What that means is that FBS can help to lead both the proposal and the bid for our schools, while certain members of the three FIEC churches have local knowledge and skills in the education sector that they can bring to the table. In fact, it’s the experience amongst those in our own churches that has really helped to drive this forward locally. One lady, a retired head teacher, has been able to use her skills and background to provide a great deal of help to the project.

Working in partnership with FBS gives us credibility because they have already established a school. They are ideal partners because they don’t want to roll out a franchise. They have been clear about that from day one. Instead they want to work in partnership with other churches to help bring the FBS ethos to a local context. That means the expertise is already there – you just need some visionaries and drivers who want to make it happen.

It’s something Alun Ebenezer and Alex Wade are really passionate about. They’ve been asked to set up more schools, meaning there is an opportunity for local groups and partnerships to set up more Christian schools across the country.

Plans and prayers

The plan here is a much bigger project than our primary or secondary school. It’s an opportunity for “such a time as this” and for other churches to think about getting involved. If you like the idea but are not quite sure what to do next then I would wholeheartedly encourage FBS to be your first port of call.

Together with FBS we’ll be submitting a bid for our secondary school in the next wave of applications and hopefully a re-submission of our primary application with the support of our local council.

Now, you might be thinking: why all this time and effort when we haven’t seen any results yet?

We believe that by persevering with these projects we can improve the chances of young people in Croydon so we are passionate about seeing this through. Opening a Free School isn’t for every church but for us it’s a great opportunity to serve local families and to partner with others in serving our community for the glory of God.

Please pray for us as we continue to work on this vision for Croydon.

Please pray:

  • For Rob’s meeting with the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services in Croydon, that they would be on board with the plans.
  • That the Local Authority hears and responds to the demand for a Faith School when they are engaged in their planning.
  • That the team behind these Free Schools would meet with the right people to bring this to fruition.

If you would like more information about setting up a Free School, please visit the Fulham Boys School website. You can also contact FBS if you are interested in having access to their “Idiots Guide” to setting up a faith school.


Pencils photo by Joanna Kosinska

Rob Pickering photo
Rob Pickering

Rob is the pastor of Selhurst Evangelical Church Croydon and the coordinator of the Croydon Gospel Partnership. He is married to Rachel and they have three children. He played football at semi-pro level and now enjoys trying to get his golf handicap down to single figures without much success!