Tory plan could vastly increase religious influence in schools
Last Thursday, the British Humanist Association reported that, ‘in further signs of the creeping influence of the Church in the education system, a Church of England-led academy trust in Newcastle is set to assume control of four schools with no religious character after it was announced that they will soon be merging with a Church of England primary school’.
Well, that “creeping influence” could well turn into a stampede by the C of E and other religious bodies to seize control of many more schools if a Tory plan to to force all schools in England to become academies goes ahead.
According to the BBC, the move would end the century-old role of local authorities as providers of education.
Back in October, David Cameron said he wanted:
Every school an academy… and yes – local authorities running schools a thing of the past.
More chillingly, in June last year, Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan made it clear in an article published by Conservative Home that she didn’t give two hoots who took control of academies:
I don’t mind if they’re scientists, businesspeople … or nuns. I want to give them greater freedom and flexibility, more control and creativity.
Last December Morgan insisted that schools must teach pupils that Britain is a Christian country and are entitled to prioritise the views of established religions over atheism.
Writing today for the Huffington Post, Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:
The proposals by the Chancellor to turn all schools in England into academies will result in the dismantling of state education and will end democratic accountability in our schools.
This is being done despite clear evidence that academies do not perform better than other schools and, in the case of many large chains, badly let down their most disadvantaged children. Nowhere else in the world has this been attempted apart from Chile, where the results have been disastrous.
It is clear that the ultimate goal is to privatise the English education system and parcel it off into the private sector where it can be run for profit. This should be of great concern to everyone.
We need an education system in place that parents and communities can be confident in and have influence over, including proper local democratic accountability through appropriate oversight by local authorities. Clearly this will not be achieved if the Chancellor’s proposals go ahead.
And The Canary today reports that:
Many of the beneficiaries of this upcoming wholesale leap to nationwide academy schools will be Tory insiders themselves.
Lord Phillip Harris, an unelected Tory peer, donated £500,000 to the Tories in recent years. He also owns the Harris Federation, which runs 37 primary and secondary academies.
Lord Stanley Fink is on the board of trustees of ARK academies, which runs a network of 34 schools throughout the UK. He has donated a cool £2.6m to the Tory party.
In 2013, the academy chain Future Academies made the headlines for employing a 27-year-old headteacher with no teaching qualifications. The pseudo-charity runs four academies in London and is directed by Tory party donor Lord John Nash.
Let’s not forget that the Conservative Party’s obsession with the creation of academies is an extension of a New Labour policy. According to Wikipedia:
The growing role of religion in the school system was promoted by the New Labour government in general, and Tony Blair in particular, with many academies (one estimate puts it at ‘more than half’ being sponsored either by religious groups or organisations/individuals with a religious affiliation.
Wiki pointed out that:
The programme of creating academies has been heavily criticised by some for handing schools to private sector entrepreneurs who in many cases have no experience of the education sector – most infamously, the Evangelical Christian car dealer, Sir Peter Vardy, who has been accused of promoting the teaching of creationism alongside macroevolution in his Emmanuel Schools Foundation academies.
The BHA said that figures released by the Church of England this year revealed that weekly attendance at church dropped below one million for the first time in 2014, news which alarmingly prompted the Church’s Evangelism Task Group to call for “a renewed sense of urgency” in engaging with and evangelising children and young people.
BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman said:
We’ve been trying to warn both the Government and the general public about the risk of arrangements like this for years, and unfortunately this latest instance of creeping religious influence in the education system is very likely only the thin end of the wedge.
A third of existing state-funded schools are religious, as are a similar proportion of new Free Schools that are being approved, and now it seems that an increasing number of schools with no previous religious character are at risk of having one forced upon them.
Unless clear and robust safeguards are built into the Government’s moves to turn increasing numbers of schools into academies, there will be nothing to stop this happening time and time again. We will certainly continue to campaign for those safeguards to be put in place, and we would encourage all those who support an open, inclusive, and fair education system to oppose undue religious influence in their local schools whenever it appears.
On Monday, Stephen Evans, the National Secular Society’s Campaign Manager, wrote:
Over a million children are attending publicly-funded church-run schools and academies. That means there are more children attending compulsory worship in schools every day than there are Anglicans worshipping in churches each week.
With the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey warning that the Church “will be extinct in one generation”, it’s little wonder that the C of E regards schools as ‘absolutely core’ to its mission.
It’s clearly incongruous that in modern secular Britain so much of our education system is under religious control. In the ongoing debate over the place of religion in schools, let’s make sure parental rights and children’s independent interests are not eclipsed by the wishes of organised religion.
Read more about academies and the dangers they pose on the Anti Academies Alliance website.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn (BBC report)