Controversy surrounds new Catholic school's opening
TODAY'S opening of the UK's first Catholic free school in Camborne has been marred by controversy.
A protest was due to take place outside St Michael's Catholic Secondary School yesterday over concerns governor Joyce Sanderson made homophobic comments.
She has since apologised for "any offence" she may have caused, also saying they may have been taken out of context.
The school was branded an "ideological gimmick", with critics questioning the Government's investment of £4.5 million to expand it to cater for up to 300 pupils, with almost 600 places available in three local secondary schools.
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Free schools are funded directly by the Government, outside the local education authority, Cornwall Council.
Camborne pensioner Wallace Simmons, who described himself as the grandfather of a former pupil – St Michael's had been run as a private school in Truro – met at the school with Mrs Sanderson, Father Chris Findlay, priest at the church associated with it, and a West Briton reporter, who was invited to discuss the story about the funding criticism.
He called it "an orchestrated attack to undermine" the school and discussed the importance of teaching moral values – not the "nonsense" of homosexuality.
But St Michael's officials this week distanced themselves from Mr Simmons's comments, saying he had nothing to do with the school.
The West Briton understands principal Neil Anderson had been due to attend the same meeting, where Mrs Sanderson offered reassurance the school would not discriminate over sexuality, adding: "Gays would be welcome to the school, but we would not encourage it."
However, her comments caused a huge and immediate furore with strong condemnation and accusations of homophobia on the West Briton's website, thisiscornwall.co.uk and on Facebook.
Hannah Jones wondered what would happen if a child discovered they were gay after being accepted by the school.
She said: "Are they supposed to feel nonsensical, worthless and wrong?"
"M-Body Fitness" described Mrs Sanderson's comments as "ignorant" and added: "What is being encouraged here is homophobia and that is a message that absolutely can influence a child's behaviour instilling in them a fear and hatred of anyone who is gay, a fact that I find not only worrying, but appalling in a modern day, educational establishment."
"Blankenstraat" described the comments as "one more example of publicly funded religious schools in this country promoting their intolerant views with the help of organisations such as the Catholic Education Service".
They added: "It is completely unacceptable that public money should go into promoting the bigoted, intolerant views of religions.
"Schools are a place to learn and prepare young people for the world of work, a world in which they will have to work alongside people of different sexual orientations."
The British Humanist Association (BHA) believes Mrs Sanderson's comments could be "unlawful".
BHA Faith Schools' campaigner Richy Thompson said: "We would like to welcome the positive development of a state-funded Catholic school not fully religiously discriminating in admissions, but unfortunately St Michael's is off to an awful start.
"Mrs Sanderson's statement likely breaks the Equality Act, which prevents discrimination in school admissions on the basis of sexual orientation and has a requirement for schools to advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people and others.
"We would be concerned about the welfare of LGBT pupils at this school, or LGBT parents whose children go there, and will be contacting the Government to raise our concerns."
Phil Innes, of Goonhavern, near Truro, was educated in the building now occupied by St Michael's, and said: "It was a very personal thing for me, where I could either sit here 'tutt-ing' to myself or I could stand up and say, 'what you are saying is wrong'."
He and a group of Facebook followers were due to hold a protest outside the school yesterday morning.
He said the aim was not to make anyone look "silly". The purpose was to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with school bosses and agree that everyone should be treated the same, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or race.
He added: "This is about discrimination for any reason."