Church of England Academy expansion plans could be slowed by new government proposals

New proposals could slow the spread of new ‘faith’ schools, but go nowhere near tackling the growing religious division in the education system, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has warned.

The government has today revised the model funding agreement for Free Schools in order to give the Secretary of State the explicit power to veto any proposals by a Free School without a religious character to acquire one, something that was not previously the case. This change will presumably also be made to the next version of the Academies model funding agreement.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘This change is welcome only in that it could possibly slow the expansion of new “faith” schools. However it does not go nearly far enough and under the government’s plans we are seeing irreversible entrenchment of religious division in our state school system. Michael Gove is on record as being very much in favour of the Church and other religious groups taking control of a significant number of former community schools, so we have serious fears that he will still approve the proposals each time. We also have concerns that former community schools can still choose to take on a “faith ethos” without legally changing their religious character at all, something that this change does not affect at all.

‘We want the same situation to hold true for Academies as for other state-funded schools, where no school without a religious character or a “faith ethos” can simply acquire one. There is therefore some way to go.’

Last week the BHA launched a campaign following a recent article by the TES outlining how the government was working with the Church to make it easier for former community schools to convert to Church Academies, and was actively encouraging the practice. Andrew Copson called the proposals ‘The single most threatening development on faith schools in a decade’, and many hundreds of supporters wrote to their MPs and to Michael Gove in opposition to the plans.