School “misleading” parents on plan to join CofE academy trust
Posted: Fri, 6th Oct 2023
Primary school fails to tell parents academy trust is run by Church of England and all its schools are faith schools.
A school has given "highly misleading" information to parents about its plans to join a faith-based academy trust, the National Secular Society has warned.
Uplands Primary School in Sandhurst told parents that none of the schools in The Keys Academy Trust (TKAT), which the school plans to join, are faith schools.
But all 10 schools in the trust are Church of England schools.
TKAT is a Church of England trust working in partnership with Oxford Diocese.
The NSS wrote to Uplands Primary's board of governors after being contacted by multiple parents concerned about a consultation on the plan to join TKAT.
The NSS urged governors to re-run the consultation "with much greater openness about the faith-based nature" of TKAT and its current schools. The consultation closed last week.
School fails to tell parents that academy and schools are faith-based
A letter to parents dated 26th September responnded to parents' questions about the school retaining its community identity with: "We hope that we have reassured you that none of the schools in The Keys are faith schools.
"This is a common misconception. All schools that join The Keys retain their original status."
The NSS said this statement is "highly misleading", because every one of the 10 schools in TKAT is registered with the Department for Education as having a designated religious character of "Church of England".
The NSS added it was misleading to state all schools that join the trust retain their original status, because it could lead to some parents thinking some of the schools in TKAT were community schools before joining, and have remained community schools. But all 10 schools were CofE before they joined.
Parents told the NSS that letters from the school regarding the consultation do not mention that TKAT is a CofE trust.
Parent: Plans could make school "unwelcoming" for diverse community
Parents have said they fear the school will lose its inclusive, secular ethos, because it has already introduced weekly Christian prayers, while a local vicar delivers an assembly every term.
Alan Parker, whose son attends Uplands Primary, called the consultation process "flawed".
He said: "It's already worrying that the school has recently decided to introduce collective worship. Our family are atheists and my child feels really uncomfortable having to pray – he feels like he'll get in trouble if he doesn't. But withdrawing him from worship will make him feel even more alienated.
"We love Uplands Primary – the teaching is wonderful. But I fear joining a Church of England trust will put pressure on the school to put even more Christianity into the school day. And that's going to make the school unwelcoming not just for us, but for other families in our diverse community who have different religions and beliefs.
"The school should be honest and open about The Keys Academy Trust's church links. How are we meant to know what is happening in our community if the process is so secret and clandestine?"
Minutes from governors' meetings regarding the plans, seen by the NSS, reveal governors were told Uplands Primary's vision must align with "TKAT key values and principles". This was not communicated with parents.
The NSS said this suggests TKAT "expects Uplands Primary to embrace a Christian ethos, as Christianity is a key TKAT value."
Governors concerned about CofE stance on same sex marriage
Minutes from a governors' meeting in July revealed governors have expressed concerns about the continuing status of relationships and sex education at the school and the promotion of diversity and inclusion.
Governors said "more investigation should be carried out in this area" as they felt it was "extremely important to establish the exact situation" as the Church of England "do not condone same sex marriages".
These concerns were not addressed in the documents sent to parents about the consultation. It is unknown if the governors' investigation was completed.
Recent communications from the CofE indicate the Church aims to use schools to improve its falling membership numbers. In June it published a document which said its vision is to double the number of children and young people who are active Christian disciples by 2030. To achieve this, it called for "the creation of new models of church in schools". It said the Church's vision for education is "not just for Church schools".
NSS: "Deliberate attempt to conceal or downplay" Church links
NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "Parents are right to be concerned that their school is on the verge of joining a religious academy trust – and to be angry that the school appears to be hiding this.
"Failing to make it clear that The Keys Academy Trust is a Church of England trust, on top of wrongly telling parents that schools in the trust aren't faith schools, feels like a deliberate attempt to conceal or downplay these Church links in anticipation that non-Anglican parents may object.
"The governors' role is to preserve and develop the ethos, values and philosophy that underpin Uplands Primary. They must ensure this is prioritised above the CofE's agenda to use schools as mission fields.
"We call on the governors to re-run this consultation and to revisit alternatives to joining a religious academy trust. They must protect the school's welcoming, inclusive ethos."