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Head only admits the faithful

A headteacher in Bolton is refusing to operate a policy of inclusion at his C of E school. Caroline Hendrie reports

THE Rev Peter Shepherd says he will refuse to admit children of other faiths to his successful Anglican school, in defiance of the Church of England.

The official stance is that its 4,500 primaries and 200 secondaries in England have a Christian ethos but inclusive admissions policies.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, believes they should even turn away children of practising Christians to take in pupils of other faiths or none.

At Canon Slade comprehensive, Bolton, places are reserved exclusively for good Christian church-goers. Parents and children must have a record of four years of attendance for at least 45 Sundays a year.

Mr Shepherd is unimpressed by government attempts, in the Education Bill, to force Anglican schools to consult diocesan boards of education every year over admissions policies and "have regard to what they say".

He says: "If the diocesan board of education asks us to take children of other faiths or none, we will politely decline. We are a Christian community serving Christian families. What's so wrong about that?"

Canon Slade is a 1,587-pupil mixed comprehensive for 11 to 18-year-olds. With 77 per cent A*-C grade passes at GCSE in 2001, it outstrips the average for Bolton of 45 per cent and England's 50 per cent.

Stan Wilson, the chairman of governors, said: "Peter runs a tight ship. When he walks around the school he won't let a shirt hanging out or a loose tie go unchecked.

"He is a father figure and the children know where the line is and if they have stepped over it."

Standing more than 6ft tall, 53-year-old Mr Shepherd cuts an imposing figure and there are some who find him a little too forceful.

One who once worked with him said: "He is not a gentle giant. He can be intimidating and has a way with words that can amount to verbal bullying."

Janina Ainsworth, Manchester diocesan director of education, said: "He sees himself as the voice of dissent both theologically and educationally to the Church's policy on schools."

A C of E Board of Education insider went further: "He prefers to be on the edge. He would be deeply disturbed if he found himself in agreement."

Mr Shepherd found his faith while a teenager, after his school music master decided he needed Peter's fine treble voice in his church choir. He was ordained 20 years ago.

He has been married for 30 years and both of his daughters Juliette, 27, a primary school teacher, and Penny, 23, a graduate, attended Canon Slade, travelling 25 miles each way from their home in Clitheroe.

The school attracts pupils from far and wide. The Venerable Alan Wolstencroft, Archdeacon of Manchester, was vice-chair of the school's board of governors from 1991 to 1998 while vicar of Bolton.

He said: "I could not fault Peter on his passionate care and concern for the children. But I wished the school could have been a bit more embracing, without such a strong ethos linked to baptism and church attendance.

"We had to build a coach park because there were so many children being brought in, passing other schools on the way. This raised the concern, what is this doing to other local communities?"

The C of E replies, Letters, 23

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