The British Humanist Association (BHA) has made a submission to the House of Commons Education Select Committee inquiry into Academies and Free Schools, and responded to the Department for Education’s subject content consultation on new A Levels. The BHA made comments related to school establishment processes, new opportunities presented to the Churches by the Academies programme, and on science and history.
Academies and Free Schools
In the Academies and Free Schools inquiry, the BHA expressed concern that:
- the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service have identified the gap between the Secretary of State and ex-community schools that have become standalone Academies presents them with an opportunity to increase their numbers of schools
- the introduction of ‘mixed Academy trusts’ allows dioceses to sponsor and take legal ownership of schools with no religious character, and the inadequate safeguards to prevent them from taking further ownership of the schools concerned
- some compelled Academies have had religious sponsors imposed upon them
- there is insufficient public scrutiny in the Free School approval process – less than there was for proposals for maintained schools through competition
- some Free Schools, for example the Steiner Academy in Frome, have been approved despite widespread and well-reasoned local opposition
BHA Education Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘The Academies and Free Schools programme has provided too many opportunities for the Churches – far and away the largest non-governmental providers of state schools – to extend their reach and influence over other schools. Often ex-community schools converting out of local authority control to stand-alone Academy status are looking for sizeable organisations which can provide a safety net in the way that the local authority used to. In such a situation it is vital that the barriers put in place to stop a school from becoming a Church school stay up, but instead they have come down. The Church of England is talking at the highest levels about the “breathtaking proposal” of it becoming the largest provider of English secondaries.
‘Coupled with a general lack of transparency and democratic deficit around Academy and Free School consultations and approval processes, we are concerned that the rise in the proportion of religious schools is only accelerating. At a time when society becomes more diverse, it is vital that the trend runs in the opposite direction.’
In response to the new A Levels consultation, which only focused on some subjects, the BHA commented that:
- The new biology module on genetics and evolution is welcome, given the topics’ central importance to the subject
- The new sections on how to work scientifically are also welcome, however there needs to be more on the nature of evidence, of whether evidence is reliable and why it might not be, or of blinding or randomising trials
- The history subject content needs to be more inclusive of non-religious beliefs, identities and perspectives, just as it is of religious ones
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson at email@example.com or on 0781 55 89 636.
Read about the Academies and Free Schools inquiry: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/education-committee/news/academies-and-free-schools/
Read the BHA’s submission to the Education Select Committee: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/WrittenEvidence.svc/EvidenceHtml/4340
Read the A Levels consultation: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/new-a-levels-subject-content-consultation
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on science: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/science-evolution-and-creationism/
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.