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Department for Education turned down 14 Brethren applications to open free schools

By David Ainsworth, Third Sector Online, 26 February 2013

Department for Education

Department for Education

The Christian group has made a number of applications through its schools umbrella group, the Focus Learning Trust

The Plymouth Brethren have made 14 unsuccessful applications to open free schools in the past two years, according to information released last week by the Department for Education.

The DfE released information, including the name of each school and the local authority areas involved, about three 'waves' of applications.

For the unsuccessful applications in the past two waves, which included 517 schools in total, it also revealed the religious designation each school would have had if the application had been successful. Before now, the government has published details only of those applications that have been successful.

The information was released after requests were made under the Freedom of Information Act by The Guardian, the British Humanist Association and the Association of Colleges. The DfE initially refused to release information on the grounds that it might be harmful to applicants, but was overruled by the Information Commissioner's Office.

The Plymouth Brethren, who adhere to a doctrine of separation from the rest of society, run about 40 schools in the UK, largely funded by voluntary donations from individuals. It is understood that about £30m a year is needed to fund these schools.

A spokesman for the Brethren said several applications had been made by the Focus Learning Trust, the umbrella group for Brethren schools, but no approvals have been gained so far. 

"The free school programme is very interesting and has great potential for extending the great education offered by Focus Learning Trust schools," he said.

The Brethren last year appealed to the charity tribunal against the Charity Commission’s decision to refuse charitable status to the Preston Down Trust, one of its congregations in Devon.

The hearing, originally planned for March, has been put on hold for three months so that options other than a legal hearing can be explored, after the Brethren expressed concerns about the potential cost of the case.

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