A C of E school has been told to drop the word “saint” from its name in case it offends other religious groups.
The practice of calling schools after saints or bishops alienates people from other faiths and non-believers, say officials and councillors in Islington, north London.
The row is over the name of the first Church of England secondary school to be built in the borough, which lost control of education five years ago after Ofsted found it was running some of the worst schools in the country.
Islington council plans to incorporate the existing St Mary Magdalene Church of England Primary School into a new City Academy for five- to 18-year-olds.
The church, which is giving £2 million towards building costs, has been told by the local authority—a partner in the scheme—that the name of the new school cannot be religious.
James Kempton, children and young people spokesman for the council’s ruling Liberal Democrat party, said a consultation had been launched because of concerns over the use of the word “saint”.
“We want to create a school that is open to everybody in the community, not a school that selects through the back door,” he said. “We need to ensure this is a school which is appropriate for Islington in the 21st century.
“Church-going is now a much less significant part of people’s lives.”
Parents, governors and teachers at St Mary Magdalene, however, are determined to keep the name. John Stewart, the head teacher, said: “We have been serving the community in the area since 1710 and there is no reason why we should change our name.
“The name makes our Christian ethos clear to everyone and there are plenty of Church of England schools named after saints in Islington and elsewhere which take children from many other faiths or none who want the education and ethos we offer.”
The council has suggested that the school be called the Islington Academy or the Barnsbury Academy. The London Diocesan Board says that if the new school is to have a new name, it should be “Magdalene Academy”, which would still denote a Christian ethos.
Most parents want to keep the existing name, however. Kate McMurdie, 33, said dropping it would be “ludicrous” and offend parents who took their religion seriously. Karen Hicks said that it would take away the school’s identity and make it like any other.
Tom Peryer, the London Diocesan Board’s director for schools, said there had been a long history of hostility towards faith schools in Islington.
A spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews said the Jewish community would have no objection to the school being named after a Christian saint. “We live in a multi-cultural country,” he said.
A referendum held by the council in 2001 found 98 per cent of parents wanted a new secondary, of which 41 per cent wanted it to be a Church of England school.