The first state-funded school run by a religious sect could open in London next year if ministers accept advice from their officials in charge of the grant-maintained sector.
The Funding Agency for Schools last week backed the application from the Seventh-day Adventist church, a sect that rejects the theory of evolution, to opt one of its two secondary schools into the state system. Its decision opens the way for a new wave of religious or evangelical schools to be set up alongside those of the established churches.
Ministers will be faced with the potentially sensitive issue of whether sect schools should get state funding. There is also the question of whether they should approve a school that currently has a totally black and Asian intake and a black teaching staff.
Approval of the John Loughborough School's application to opt in would strengthen the case being made for state funding for Muslim schools. The two Islamic schools in London, the Islamia girls high and the Islamia primary, are consulting on their application to go GM.
John Loughborough, which does not exclude white pupils, wants to expand its intake from the current 150 to 250 and is planning to spend Pounds 420, 000 upgrading its technology and science facilities. The funding agency has offered to pay 25 per cent of the cost.
Currently, pupils pay Pounds 680 a term, though the church provides subsidised places for pupils from deprived backgrounds. Exam results are well below the national average - according to the latest league table figures only a quarter of the 20 15-year-olds achieved five or more higher grade GCSEs. Of the 18 teachers currently employed by the school, only 6 or 7 have the qualifications required to teach in the state sector.
John Loughborough, in the north London borough of Haringey, attracts pupils from mainly African-Caribbean backgrounds because of its reputation for discipline and its distinctive Christian ethos. According to the head, Clinton Valley, its exam results need to be judged against an intake that includes children who have failed to thrive in the state system.
The sect was founded in America in the mid-19th century and its adherents await the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. While its church in London is mainly black, it has a school in Plymouth that has a largely white intake. They claim a membership of 19,000 in this country and the church runs eight primaries as well as the two secondaries.
Keith Davidson, the education director for the south of England schools, says the church believes in the integration of faith and learning and its extension into lessons where appropriate. Members take Saturday as their Sabbath and are encouraged not to smoke, drink or take drugs. They tend to be vegetarians.
The church is expecting ministers to approve the application. However, in its letter to John Loughborough, the funding agency points out that there could be financial pressures on a small school and that the staff will have to qualify for licensed teacher status. It notes that the school is paying for an inspection next month and has agreed to deal with any deficiencies.
Haringey is to submit a formal objection on the grounds that it has reservations about the quality of education being provided; the balance of the curriculum and the use of public funds.