The Catholic Education Service has today announced it is working with the Government to draw up plans to have its schools take over the management of many English state schools without a religious character, it has today been announced. The TES has reported that the Church is to follow the approach pioneered by the Church of England of having its schools enter into federations with schools without a religious character, thereby imposing its management onto these schools. From here it can very easily also impose ethos and values, if it so wishes. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed alarm at the plans.
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘We are alarmed that the Catholic Church is now seeking to extend its influence over the management of schools in a way never previously possible – not because of any public demand for this but because of legislative changes which have made this possible.
‘From controlling the management of a school, there is nothing to stop the Church from also deciding, if it wishes, to set the ethos of this school. We have already seen this happen with the Church of England, who decided in 2011 to similarly get involved in the running of other schools. Malton School became the first to decide to convert from being a Community school to being a formally designated Church Academy – a move since replicated elsewhere. Tudor Grange Academy in Solihull, an ex-Community school which last year affiliated with the local Diocese without consultation has since decided to turn religiously selective primary schools into feeder schools. Such affiliations and management takeovers are not democratically accountable and lead to highly discriminatory outcomes – for pupils, parents and teachers.
‘We will be making clear our opposition to these plans, and hope others do the same.’
What exactly has changed?
As a consequence of the Academies programme, many former community schools (which cannot have a religious character or a faith ethos) have found themselves having opted out of local authority oversight and looking for another safety net to take its place. In addition, the Government has been forcing failing schools to convert to Academies under a sponsor organisation. Finally, unlike with community schools, Academies can have a ‘faith ethos’ without having a formal religious character, allowing religious discrimination in the selection of governors, senior staff and for a de facto religious stance to be put on some subjects such as sex and relationships education. Or they may choose to become formally designated with a religious character after holding a consultation.
In 2011, the Church of England identified that as it and the Catholic Church are far and away the largest providers of schools, these legislative changes gave it a unique opportunity to start extending its reach over former community schools without a religious character. Then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams declared that the consequence of this was 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’. The BHA has since seen a large number of former community schools fall under Church of England control, with high profile battles in Malton, Solihull and elsewhere.
In January last year, the Catholic Church said that it did not yet plan to take a similar expansionist approach: ‘We would not rule it out, but we will wait and see what happens with the Church of England and take it from there’. However, the Church has now declared that it has ‘general principles about ethos and values’ that it would like to bring to ‘struggling’ schools. The Church is intending to form federations with other schools and take over governance.
Read the TES report: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6331195
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools
View 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.