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Report into England’s third largest academy chain raises fresh questions over faith ethos academies

A governor at an Oasis school described the academy chain as ‘faith schools by stealth’

The status of ‘faith ethos’ academies has been brought back into focus this week by a new report into England’s third largest academy chain, Oasis. The report, which details the overtly religious ethos of Oasis schools, challenges the organisation’s claim that its academies are not religious, and suggests that it ought to be more transparent about ‘its standing as a Christian organisation’.

Humanists UK, which has previously expressed concern both about Oasis specifically and repeatedly about ‘faith ethos’ academies more broadly, has reiterated the need for a rolling back of the pervasive and unaccountable religious influence in the education system.

‘Faith ethos’ academies are schools that are not registered with a religious character but nonetheless are run by religious organisations or organisations with an overtly religious ethos. These organisations, of which Oasis is one, are not able to set discriminatory admission arrangements, as schools that have a formal religious designation are. But they can influence the school according to their religion in a variety of other important ways, including by skewing the content of religious education and sex education, or by applying a religious test to senior staff posts.

Despite stating that its schools are not religious, Oasis admits that its ethos is ‘inspired by the life and message of Jesus Christ’, and a number of the schools were previously designated as religious by the Department for Education. Some of Oasis schools share sites with churches that are also run by the organisation – a situation that Oasis has defended on the grounds that ‘While the name “church” is used, Oasis churches are not what would be understood as traditional church groups.’

The latest investigation into Oasis, published on the website Education Uncovered, reveals the insight of a governor of one of the schools, who describes them as ‘faith schools by stealth’. The governor claims that ‘the organisation is clearly religious but this is not being made clear enough to parents or would-be governors’, adding:

‘This is not what I signed up for. I signed up to be a school governor, not a supporter of a religious movement. These are not supposed to be faith schools.’

Last year Humanists UK gave oral evidence to the House of Commons Education Select Committee, alongside Oasis founder Reverend Steve Chalke, revealing that religious groups are gaining control of hundreds of state-funded schools in England that are not registered as having a religious character.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘The success of this effort to smuggle religion through customs is evidence of just how permissive our education system has become to religious influence. Indeed, these “faith ethos” academies – schools with no designated religious character that are nonetheless run and influenced by religious organisations – are now widespread, just a few years after they were made possible at all by the introduction of Academies.

‘It is bad enough that a third of our state-funded schools are faith schools, without organisations like Oasis exerting religious influence over a significant number of the rest, arbitrarily and without transparency. This is fundamentally dishonest, but remarkably it breaks no laws and – despite our protestations – has raised very few eyebrows within Government either. If the education system is to properly respect the rights of parents and children, that has to change.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigner Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read Education Uncovered’s full investigation: https://www.educationuncovered.co.uk/news/126211/exclusive-investigation-faith-schools-by-stealth-calls-for-greater-openness-about-the-mission-and-ethos-of-englands-thirdlargest-academy-sponsor.thtml

Read Humanists UK’s news item ‘Chain of Academies with no religious character establishing parallel network of Churchs on school premises’: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/04/08/chain-academies-religious-character-establishing-parallel-network-churches-often-rent-free-school-premises/

Read Humanists UK’s news item ‘Exposed: religious organisations gain control over hundreds of state schools’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/09/07/exposed-religious-organisations-gain-control-over-hundreds-of-state-schools/   

Read more about ‘faith ethos’ academies: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/bha-briefing-faith-ethos-academies-and-free-schools-explained.pdf

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

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