Humanists UK has expressed alarm about the potential for a religious power-grab in schools with and without a religious character after the UK Government announced it is allocating more than £2 million in funding to increase the number of schools in faith academies in England.
During a speech to the Confederation of School Trusts, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced a number of UK Government policies designed to achieve its ‘renewed vision for all schools to be part of a multi-academy trust’. Because the Church of England (CofE) and the Catholic Church ‘have a smaller proportion of academies compared to non-church schools’, he announced a pilot programme involving both churches to set up ‘new Church academy trusts’ – which will be funded by £1.25 from the Government – and a new ‘turnaround trust’ tasked with supporting failing Catholic schools ‘whilst dioceses increase their own trust capacity right across the country’ – which will receive £800,000.
Academies are state-funded schools which are independent from the local authority and receive their funding directly from the central Government. They control their own admissions policies and, because they are not bound by the National Curriculum, have greater freedom over what they teach. Academies are run by academy trusts which may run just one school or a number of schools (these are known as multi-academy trusts or MATs).
Faith-based academies can select pupils and teachers by faith, and teach religious education (RE) and relationships and sex education (RSE) from a faith perspective. Moving faith schools to a faith-based MAT often leads to stronger religious influence in them as rules about the composition of trusts mean less governance by stakeholders with an investment in individual schools (like parents and teachers) than in other types of school, and dioceses have more direct control over what is taught.
Alarmingly, many schools without a religious character have also been taken over by faith-run MATs. Ostensibly this is not supposed to affect their overarching community character, but in practice it often means a greater emphasis on one faith perspective (usually Christianity), particularly in RE and collective worship – which may go from unenforced to enforced. For example, when Humanists UK supported two non-religious parents to take a successful legal challenge against their children’s school when it refused to offer them a meaningful, inclusive alternative to confessional Christian worship, the school in question was not a faith school but was operated by a CofE trust.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:
‘It is alarming that the Government will be investing more than £2 million in a plan that will enable the CofE and Catholic Church to exert even more power over the education system than is currently the case. Although we do not take a position on whether all schools should be academies or not, it is clear that more faith-based MATs mean more religious influence in schools. And this influence won’t be limited to faith schools – schools without a religious character are regularly taken over by faith trusts which then begin changing their character in line with that faith, often to the consternation of parents, teachers, and pupils.
‘53% of the British adults belong to no religion and the number of children attending CofE schools already outstrips the entire worshipping community of the Church. Given this, the Government should not be investing public money in faith-based MATs. It should instead use these funds to help make all school places open, inclusive, and suitable for all children regardless of background or belief.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.
Read our most recent article on the relaunch of a public consultation on a faith school Kingston Council says is ‘the only option’ to create new school places.
Read our recent article on anger as council rejects challenge to Catholic school unfairly imposed on newbuild community.
Read our article on data showing the number of pupils attending Church of England schools is more than the entire ‘worshipping community’.
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