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Methodists risk giving up all their education principles on a wing

This weekend saw the Methodist Church hold a meeting aimed at ‘re-invigorat[ing] its engagement with the education sector’. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed dismay at the related Education Committee Report with its calls for expansion and increasing evangelisation of Methodist schools, and expressed concern at the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) role in instigating this development.

Earlier this year, following the passage of the Education Act, the DfE gained the power to force failing schools to convert schools to Academy status. Three Methodist schools were announced as amongst the schools to be forced. As a consequence of this, the Methodist Church was required by the DfE to set up an Academy umbrella, the Methodist Academies and Schools Trust (MAST), or else lose control of its schools that become Academies.

Now that MAST has been established, the Church has identified that ‘the present time offers a particular opportunity for the Methodist Church, alone or in partnership with others, to extend that provision [of faith-based schools]’:

  • Dr John Barrett, Chair of the Church’s Education Commission, is quoted as saying that ‘we have an amazing opportunity, both within the schools that we already run, and with the potential of providing more, either on our own or in partnership with other Churches.’
  • The report discusses ‘offering greater support to Methodists who work in the education sector and appointing more chaplains to further education. The report also recommends that the Church extends its commitment by opening more state-funded schools, especially in areas of socio-economic deprivation.’
  • On secularism, the report states that ‘Critics sometimes talk of the danger of religious indoctrination yet the real danger of indoctrination lies in permitting the young to surrender their thinking entirely to the many secular and materialistic pressures that come from society.’
  • The report also states that ‘Some within the Methodist Church have argued to end our involvement with faith-based schools on the grounds that they generate a privileged elite within the national system and take a disproportionate amount of the Church’s attention when it should be focusing on the needs of the poorest community schools… we find it hard to understand how promoting Christianity within all schools will be assisted by removing ”the privilege” of greater contact with Methodism and therefore with Christianity in 79 schools.’

The Chief Education Officer of the Church of England is a member of the Education Commission that developed the report, which also states that the Church of England is now deemed as speaking for the Methodist Church in meetings with government.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘The Methodist Church has in the past been an advocate of more inclusive schools, including being part of the consensus against compulsory Christian worship in schools. The demise of this inclusive approach is deeply saddening. To see the Methodist Church falling into line behind the Church of England in seeing the latest reforms as an opportunity for a land-grab within the state-funded system marks their further decline as a force for reform and dissent within England. It seems they are increasingly happy to let the established church speak for them, and their own line is increasingly being replaced with that of the Church of England. Methodists are due to vote on this report when they meet at their conference this summer. We hope they will reject it, but fear they will not.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson on 07534 248596 or at andrew@humanism.org.uk.

Read the Methodist Church’s Education Commission Report 2012: http://www.methodistchurch.org.uk/downloads/coun-MC1238-education-commission-160312.doc

Read the Methodist Church’s press release, Methodist Church to prioritise education and equality, 26 March 2012: http://www.methodist.org.uk/index.cfm?fuseaction=opentogod.newsDetail&newsid=565

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

Read 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

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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