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Government: ‘Forced Academies’ cannot also be ‘forced “faith” schools’

Failing schools compelled by the government to convert to being sponsored Academies cannot also be forced to adopt the religious character of their sponsor body. The news comes in correspondence between the Department for Education (DfE) and British Humanist Association (BHA). The BHA has welcomed the reassurance, but urged parents and teachers to be diligent to ensure that no pressure is placed on a ‘forced Academy’, as such schools have been dubbed, to also become a ‘forced “faith” school’.

In Essex, Briscoe Primary and Nursery School, a failing community school without a religious character, is being compelled to convert to be an Academy sponsored by Wickford C of E Voluntary Controlled Infants School, a former Voluntary Controlled school that separately chose to convert to being an Academy last year. This means that Wickford will have control over the governance of Briscoe, despite Wickford latter being a ‘faith’ school but Briscoe not. The BHA asked the DfE if Wickford could force Briscoe to legally adopt its religious designation, or otherwise adopt its ‘faith ethos’.

In its reply, the DfE confirmed this would not be possible:

‘We agree that it would not be right for the process of becoming an Academy to be a means by which parents and the local community are denied the opportunity to express their views about changes in the character of their local schools. As Wickford CofE School is a Church school and is sponsoring a community school we have been clear with both schools that the community school cannot change its characteristics, adopt its ethos or seek a designation simply because its proposed sponsor is a Church school. If such a change was proposed we would expect there to be a thorough consultation, the responses to which showed strong local support.’

The DfE also explained that the funding agreement of the Academy would give the Secretary of State the right to veto any proposals for ‘forced Academies’ without a religious character to gain one – something that has not previously been the case. This rule was recently introduced for Free Schools, and it is welcome to hear it will also be introduced for Academies, and the veto would be exercised in cases such as this one.

Commenting on the changes, BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson said, ‘This reassurance from the DfE is welcome, although we still have concerns that pressure will be brought to bear on these schools to become ‘faith’ schools. And it would be preferable if such rules were in law, not just in a funding agreement and subject to the whim of the government of the day. We will join parents, teachers and other local campaigners in ensuring that no “forced Academy” also becomes a “forced ‘faith’ school”.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.

Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

For more information on the different types of ‘faith’ school, please see the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/schools-with-a-religious-character.pdf

Read the previous comment on the Secretary of State’s veto powers, Church of England Academy expansion plans could be slowed by new government rules, 10 January 2012: https://humanism.org.uk/news/view/960

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.

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