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Shocking news on state-funded religious schools

A letter from the BHA

Dear supporter,

As you know, the BHA has campaigned for the abolition of state-funded religious schools, which discriminate against staff, parents and pupils, and exacerbate racial, religious and socio-economic inequalities in our society for many decades.

Our campaigning became even more necessary in 2001 when government policy and Church of England ambitions combined to begin an expansion of state funded religious schools which few had imagined likely just months before. In that year, the Church announced its intention to dramatically increase the number of state funded schools it controlled and government – for the first time – began to encourage the opening of state funded schools for religions other than Christianity and Judaism.

I am writing to you urgently about what I think is the single most threatening development in the area of ‘faith’ schools since their expansion began in 2001–to bring your attention to new moves by the Church of England and the Department for Education rapidly to expand the Church’s role in our state education system.

If the Church and the Government have their way and their ambitions are realised, the Church will become the single largest provider of schools, totally funded by the state. That means that a majority of schools may be allowed to discriminate religiously in employment, discriminate religiously in admissions, and teach curricula heavily skewed towards Christianity right across the board.

For some time, we have been warning that the government’s Academies programme has provided a huge opportunity for the Church to take control of inclusive community schools which convert to Academy status. Community schools are maintained by their local authority, do not have a religious character, and before the coalition government, made up two thirds of all state schools. However they are now converting in droves to be Academies, and therefore opting out of local authority control. It is natural that many of these schools will look to replace the local authority and gain support of another parent organisation, and the Church of England is by far the largest and oldest private provider of schools.

The Church is now waking up to the unique opportunity that the Academies programme has presented it. In July, Malton School became the first to seek a ‘double conversion’, first changing to an Academy and then to be a CofE ‘faith’ school. In late September, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams acknowledged that Malton was not the only school that is seeking to do this, stating that there had already been ‘many, many’ community schools interested in becoming CofE schools upon Academy conversion. **Dr Williams stated that ‘We are looking at the middle-term future, where the Church of England will be quite conceivably the largest sponsor and provider of secondary education in this country, which is a rather startling and breathtaking proposal.’

And now we find out that the Church even has its eyes on every non-religious school – and the government is actively supporting the Church’s plans.** Last week it was revealed thatthe Church is working on a major new report, looking specifically at how it can capitalise on the demise of the local authorities, and Discussions are also in progress with the Department for Education about how the process for community schools wishing to become CofE faith academies can be made quicker and easier. At present, there have to be separate consultations dealing with academy and faith proposals, but plans are being devised that would allow them to be combined.’

Even those that choose not to go down this route may fall under Church control. The article continues by looking at Canterbury Diocese, where the Church has been ‘establishing formal collaborative relationships between different types of schools - faith and secular - since the summer... The diocese is currently working on a groundbreaking set of plans that would allow it to sponsor community schools that are becoming academies without them becoming designated faith schools - a model that does not presently exist.’ Such a model will still allow the Church to still put some slant on the curriculum of the school, and perhaps also require senior staff to be practising Anglicans.

Commenting on the proposals, Michael Gove says that ‘I don’t think we should interpret what’s happening as some kind of clerical takeover. It’s not like the dissolution of the monasteries being reversed with our children’s education being placed in the hands of monks and abbots. The truth is that CofE schools are generally popular and the direction of travel we want to go is to give more responsibility to schools that have proven successful.’

In fact, this is a potentially massive takeover. It is unsurprising that a ‘national’ church to which 80% of the population do not actually see themselves as belonging and whose services are attended on a monthly basis by under 5% of the population should see its only hope for future survival as a state-funded service provider. But the idea that government, which should be providing schools inclusive of all, is facilitating this drive with public money is shameful. In spite of what Mr Gove says, ‘faith’ schools are extremely unpopular.

On behalf of the BHA, I have written to Michael Gove opposing the plans,urging the Department to cease support for these moves, and to instead work to ensure the Academies programme offers no relaxation of the rules for any maintained school without a religious character to convert to a religious school, and no possibility of schools which once served the whole community to become religiously sponsored. Please join me by also writing to your MP and to Michael Gove to also show your concern at the proposals, and please encourage all your friends and family to do likewise.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Copson
Chief Executive,
British Humanist Association

PS We also need to raise funds for our campaign against ‘faith’ schools, so it would be great if – as well as writing to your MP today as a matter of urgency – you could make a donation to support our work.



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