BIRMINGHAM schools have been put on alert about a religious cult that has been banned from one of the city's universities.
John Smail, the education authority's child protection officer, has written to headteachers and community nurseries warning them about groups operating under the names Central Birmingham, International, or West Church of Christ.
He told The TES that the council was investigating whether some of these groups might be legitimate, but that those associated with the International Church of Christ (also known as the Boston Church) are banned from universities including Birmingham, because of concern about their activities.
He warns that the group has tried to gain access to schools by offering to perform songs and sketches by students from Harding University, Texas, and that it may also be targeting three and four-year-olds in pre-school groups.
The International Church of Christ is not part of the legitimate Church of Christ denomination, and "once contacted by the group, individuals find it difficult to leave the cult and tend to be pursued with uninvited ongoing cntact", he has told schools.
However, a city spokeswoman said the authority was not aware of any incidents at Birmingham schools.
Andrew Morphett, a spokesman for the West Birmingham Church of Christ, said their's was a long-standing group unconnected to the International Church of Christ group, and agreed that there was confusion because of the similarity of names.
A Birmingham University spokesman said the International Church was banned from its campus around 10 years ago, after concerns were raised by the student union and its multi-faith chaplaincy.
They were worried about aggressive recruiting methods, which included forcing people to stop and talk to them.
"We also observed that when students joined, the demands placed on their time were such that it compromised their ability to do their work properly," added the spokesman.
INFORM, a Home Office-funded information network on religious movements, said the denomination was well-known, and active in 11 towns in the UK.
For more information www.religiousmovements.org or telephone INFORM on 020 7955 7654.