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Yesterday saw the 1,000th state-maintained school convert to being an Academy, just over a year since the passage of the Academies Act 2010 and the first ‘Academy orders’ being granted. At the same time, the Education Bill finished its final day of debate as part of the Committee Stage in the House of Lords, and is now due to move on to Report Stage in just under two weeks’ time. The British Humanist Association (BHA) believes both Academies and the Education Bill represent steps backwards in curbing the number and influence of ‘faith’ schools, and their ability to discriminate against parents, pupils and staff.
The Academies Act 2010 enabled existing state-maintained schools to convert to Academies funded by the state, but largely free from state control. In the case of converting ‘faith’ schools, this gives them complete control over their curriculum (so long as it is ‘broad and balanced’), and also enables them to employ non-qualified teachers. Voluntary controlled schools, which made up about one third of ‘faith’ schools, are not typically able to religiously discriminate in admissions; however upon conversion, they gain the ability to do so. Furthermore, the move to Academy status has seen ‘many, many’ inclusive community schools seek to also become ‘faith’ schools. Over 40% of state-funded secondary schools are now Academies.
The Education Bill will further entrenches the Academies system by introducing a duty on local authorities, when they believe a new school is needed, to invite proposals for a new Academy, or Free School. Other provisions of the Bill will reduce the importance of schools promoting community cohesion, and give schools (including ‘faith’ schools) greater power over their admissions arrangements. The BHA, in working with the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG), sought to amend these and a number of other aspects of the Bill, and followed the debate closely through its several readings.
BHA Faith Schools and Education Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘The extremely rapid increase in the number of Academies and resultant decline in the number of maintained schools represents a major shift within the UK that is leading to more faith in state education and further religious segregation. Amendments are not voted on during the Committee Stage, however we will be looking to readdress these issues come Report Stage.’
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.
Read the Department for Education press release, ‘More than one million children now being taught in Academies’, 4th October 2011. 1,007 state-maintained schools have now converted to Academies, and a further 24 brand new Academy schools have opened as Free Schools. 116 new sponsored Academies have opened under the pre-Academies Act 2010 system, in addition to the203 that opened under the previous Government. This brings the total number of Academies to 1,350.
Read the House of Lords debate, Education Bill Committee (Day 11). The Bill will be commencing Report Stage on 18th October.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.