Self Governing Faith Schools Are The "Churches’ Dream And Most Parents’ Nightmare”.

Allan Beavis's picture
The Bishop of Oxford has announced that 3,360 (or 70% ) of the Church of England’s 4,800 schools plan to convert to academy status within five years. The Bishop claims that, as well as supporting its own schools, the church is likely to provide a range of services to non-faith schools. The exodus of Church of England schools from local authority control comes in the wake of a deal between church leaders and the Government that removed obstacles to their schools becoming academies. Previously, they had been worried that valuable land would revert from the diocese to individual governing bodies if they opted for a change in status. The Bishop said the deal would still give them powers over appointing governors and allow them to protect the schools' Christian character.

Back in January, Michael Gove announced that four out of eight free schools to have won formal approval to open would have a religious agenda – a Jewish primary school in north London, A Hindu primary school in Leicester, St Luke's church of England primary in Camden, and the Discovery new school in West Sussex, which will have an Anglican ethos and also offer a Montessori curriculum.

That Gove is determined to polarise education and encourage covert or overt selection was laid bare recently in an article for the Catholic Herald, in which he openly recommended that Catholic schools should transfer to academy status to put them “out of reach of meddling secularists”. His stance reveals the truth behind the myth that choice is all in his education reform. If the role of the local authority is taken over by the church, there will be little choice for those who do not want their children to receive a heavily biased education.

Even worse, his alliance with the church does not suggest that his motive was to give greater opportunities to disadvantaged children - the Bishop admitted last month that religious schools achieve their league-topping results by using privileged admissions criteria to select the best pupils. Although he said he would like to open up church schools to more non-Anglicans by reserving only 10% of places for children for church-goers, he also admitted that no such restrictions would be put forward in the Church of England guidance to be issued later in the year.

It is undesirable that the government is giving churches a disproportionate amount of control of our publicly-funded education system, especially while church attendance is in freefall and unconvincing that churches will not use schools for proselytising. If the Bishop‘s predictions about the demise of local education authorities turns out to be correct, it could result in currently non-religious schools becoming beholden to church school administrators for assistance, which will inevitably come with religious demands attached.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular society said, “A mass conversion of voluntary controlled schools into entirely self-governing academies freed from the moderating influence of local authorities will be the churches’ dream and most parents’ nightmare.”
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Andrew Edmondson's picture
Tue, 27/09/2011 - 09:17

So much for religion being marginalised, as they constantly claim.

I live in a typical village with a single primary C of E school. No choice for us. It breaks my heart to see the children traipsing up to the local church. The only parent to withdraw their children from worship is a Jehovah's Witness. No one dares to rock the boat in a village.

Luckily, I don't have children but atheist friends do. They have told me about how their children are upset by the religious ideas being fed them by teachers paid for out of their taxes. Although 65% of children emerge from education atheist or agnostic, I feel for those impressionable young minds that do not.

And the Localism Bill/Big Society is going to increase religious power a whole lot more from April next year.

If you want to make a difference, join the British Humanist Association and/or the National Secular Society. Get involved locally too.

I am grateful for this article because it has alerted me to the religious nature of the Montessori free school that has been approved in West Sussex. I had no idea it was religious, Too late now of course. Gove and others have set these schools in stone.

Perhaps there will be a national revolt when people wake up to find 2 in 3 schools run by religious organisations? One can only hope.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 27/09/2011 - 13:32

I think religious beliefs should be respected and accepted and spirituality has a very important part to play in society and culture. The problem arises when very personal beliefs are imposed on alternative religions or amongst the secular.

With a shortage of schools places - see Christine Phillips' recent post here - it would make sense for faith schools to be abolished and re-booted as entirely non-selective schools. I have no doubt that faith schools are populated with many children of genuine believers but equally, they are full of too many children whose parents are less than devout and with atheist parents who have faked religious commitment.

Faith and spirituality can be central to a person’s being and often binds certain communities together and these can be very positive things but perhaps religious leaders of all faiths can reclaim religion away from state education and do more to give religious instruction to children as part of the care they administer to their religious communities. This would ensure that the children of their believers would get the religious teaching they require out of school time and free up state schools to follow a curriculum appropriate to all children, regardless of their faith or atheism.

Andrew Edmondson's picture
Tue, 27/09/2011 - 13:44

The C of E and Catholic Church wish to extend their control of education. Faith schools only increase in number.

The original reason why the Church became so interested in education was to prevent secular education following the enlightenment. A clever move.

Rowan Williams wants to bring the church to every school. Things haven't really changed.

Religious organisations depend upon childhood indoctrination for their survival. A secular education would diminish this.

There's little point appealing to the leaders of religious organisations that have power. Change must come from government.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 27/09/2011 - 14:14

It would make sense to abolish faith schools, thereby freeing up more badly needed school places in local communities and returning religious instruction back to the care of religious institutions. This would mean that the genuinely devout could ensure that their children receive religious instruction from their religious leaders.

Andrew Edmondson's picture
Tue, 27/09/2011 - 14:56

I fully agree Allan. Schools should be somewhere that children can learn about religion and belief in an unbiased manner. Children from religious and non-religious families will benefit from this.

The government wants community cohesion on the one hand and divisive religious schools on the other.

Faith schools achieve their results through selection, according to a government survey. Another investigation showed that they have no better moral ethos than community schools.

And of course they are able to discriminate against their employees, e.g. by denying promotion for non-religious teachers. This is set to get worse after next April, when government ministers will be able to circumvent equality law for religious schools.

Amazingly, the government is getting away with handing schools and welfare services over to religious organisations, even though there is no evidence that they can do a better job. What we do know is that they will do their best to extend their power and influence if we let them.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 27/09/2011 - 15:41

There are actually very few non-Christian faith schools (11 state-funded Muslim ones, for example) and 4,500 Anglican ones. This has been very useful to successive governments to promote and propagate the belief that Christian schools have a virtual monopoly on

i)discipline and
ii)ii) good exam results

Therefore, middle class parents who cannot afford private – or profess to be ideologically opposed to the segregationist elitism of private schools – will unwaken long dormant religious interest or fake one to secure what they think will be a superior education for their children. This is particularly obvious in primary schools, after which some parents will abandon all ideological pretence, apply for scholarships or just pay for their children to go private from 11 when it really counts.

Such is the dominance of state funded Christian faith schools that it is tempting to wonder whether the sprinkling of non-Christian free schools that opened this autumn is not a pre-emptive strike against accusations of discrimination and a perfect vehicle for the government to pay lip service to a commitment to diversity? It would have been better for this government to have shown genuine and proven commitment by taking the opportunity to introduce real and concrete equality into schools by abolishing faith schools altogether.

An abolition would not be an attack on the church for the simple reason that Christian schools are held up as nothing more than desirable schools – they have very little to do with religion per se. It is puzzling that, in an increasingly secular society, where most people are indifferent to religion, the government continues to discriminate against the majority who do not go to church or pretend to do so.

Andrew Edmondson's picture
Tue, 27/09/2011 - 16:17

Yes, and the majority of the public do not want faith schools either.

11 out the 24 recently approved free schools have a faith basis. Those that do not are taking away funding from community schools.

It is clear that government want to abolish local education authority. I can never understand why governments love to scrap existing national services rather than improve them.

I've heard moving accounts of parents struggling with the decision to attend church in order to get their children into the best local school. How can a religious organisation dare to claim the moral high ground when it encourages parents to lie?

The west of Isle of Wight are currently facing closure of the only community school. Swanage also faced this. It's shameful.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 28/09/2011 - 11:46

The temptation to lie about one's faith is certainly there and not just in rural communities. Inner city London, for example, has a very high number of Catholic or CofE schools that effectively rules out a large percentage of the population who don't want their children educated in a Christian school or can't. Additionally many secondary faith schools take their students from a number of primary "feeder" schools with traditional links. These primary schools could be miles away from the catchment area of the secondary school and displaces local children

Andrew Edmondson's picture
Wed, 28/09/2011 - 14:04

Here's a link to Chichester Free school comments by prospective parents. What a contrast.

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