Government: Community schools will not be able to convert to ‘faith’ Academies in one step

The Government has reassured the British Humanist Association (BHA) today that under new plans being drawn up, community schools will not be able to convert to ‘faith’ Academies in one simple step, as had previously been reported and claimed by the Church of England (CofE). The BHA has welcomed the news, though taken the opportunity to again express its concern that faith groups are still able and seeking to expand their role in education through the Academies programme.

The plans were initially announced in the TES on 23 December by Rob Gwynne, the Church of England’s Head of School Strategy, with the report stating that ‘Discussions are in progress with the Department for Education [DfE] about how the process for community schools wishing to become CofE faith academies can be made quicker and easier. At present, there have to be separate consultations dealing with academy and faith proposals, but plans are being devised that would allow them to be combined.’ Following on from this, the BHA alerted its members and supporters, who sent many hundreds of letters to Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove and to MPs.

In a promptly arranged meeting with the BHA today, David McVean, head of the DfE’s School Choice, Organisation and Fair Access Division, said that contrary to the claims made in the press, there is ‘absolutely no intention’ to combine the two consultations.

The government is planning a revision of the relevant regulations, following a consultation in May, however the intent is to ‘make it no easier’ for the Church to take control of schools than is currently the case. The BHA has been promised that they will be included in discussions on the regulations prior to that point.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘It is very welcome that despite the Church’s boasting, these plans are not to go ahead, but we do continue to be concerned about the Church’s stated ambitions in expanding its role in education, and the increased ease with which the Academies sector already allows this to happen. This would not have been possible even two years ago.

‘We will continue to work hard on reducing the expansion of the number of ‘faith’ schools, and are grateful for the incredible support we have received on this issue.’