The Salvation Army wants to open its own state primary and secondary schools in England, writes Paul Sanderson.
With the Government committed in its recent White Paper to increasing the number of faith schools, the army is investigating whether it could become one of a number of religous groups that will manage state schools.
Bill Cochrane, its head of external relations, confirmed: "It is something we are looking at. There is no reason we would not consider moving into that area if the opportunity arose."
The Salvation Army already runs more than 1,000 primaries and 150 secondary schools around the world in countries such as the USA, Norway and many African nations. But this would be the first time it has managed British schools.
Plans are still at an early stage as Salvationists wait for further developments at the Department for Education and Skills before deciding if they are feasible.
However, Mr Cochrane said its schools would model themselves on existing C of E and Catholic schools, providing a broad education with a Christian ethos. There would be a mixture of both Salvationist and lay teachers.
He said the curriculum would not be overtly influenced by religion and that pupils would choose whether to be committed to the Salvation Army or not. He said: "There would be no imposition of doctrine on pupils. We would also accept people from all backgrounds whether they are Christian or not."
But secular groups expressed alarm at the move. Madeleine Pym, acting director of the British Humanist Association, said: "I'm quite shocked. Are we going to see Scientologists or Moonies opening schools?" Keith Porteous Wood, director of the National Secular Society, is worried at the prospect of other, even stricter religious groups opening schools. He commented: "This is more splintering of our education system on sectarian and racial lines. We should aim for schools to be secularised and religion left to home or places of worship. Only that way will children grow up respecting each others' beliefs."
The Salvation Army in the UK has some 60,000 members.