NSS urges schools commissioner to reject church plan to control community schools
Posted: Tue, 05 Apr 2016 16:25
The National Secular Society has called on the Regional Schools Commissioner for the North of England to oppose plans for a Church of England takeover of four Newcastle schools.
The Commissioner, Janet Renou, is currently considering a proposal to form a multi-academy trust (MAT) which would include one Church of England school and four non-religiously designated schools.
According to one city councillor, the Church would have three out of five seats on the trust's board, despite just one of the five schools currently having a religious ethos.
In a letter to the Schools Commissioner, Stephen Evans, NSS Campaigns Director, urged Ms Renou to preserve local provision of secular education and protect children's rights to religious freedom by blocking the proposal.
Despite MATs being under a contractual obligation to protect schools' individual character the NSS says it has "little confidence" that in reality the ethos of the community schools will be protected through the funding agreement with the Secretary of State.
The letter invites the Commissioner to "consider how non-religious schools can realistically be protected from an encroaching religious ethos if the most senior people in the trust are all advancing the interests of the Church."
The Newcastle Diocesan Education Board claims that the ethos of the individual schools will be protected – despite representatives of the Church controlling the trust's board.
Newcastle City Council is seeking assurances that the schools will continue to adopt a "fair approach to school admissions."
In the letter to Ms Renou the National Secular Society also noted its broader concerns about forced academisation potentially resulting in even more schools falling under the control of religious groups.
Mr Evans added: "In the long-term, there is nothing to prevent non-religious schools in [faith-based] multi-academy chains from taking on a religious designation provided they gain the approval of the Secretary of State.
"At the National Secular Society we are frequently contacted by parents, teachers and governors concerned about Church of England controlled schools seeking to assert an overbearing religious ethos in its schools."
The NSS has repeatedly raised concerns with the Department for Education about religious organisations using academisation to further their own interests by gaining greater control of publicly funded education, including non-religious schools.