In its response to a call for evidence on the Government’s Education and Adoption Bill, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed concern that the Bill may lead to a sharp rise in the number of ‘faith ethos’ Academies in England.
The Bill aims to force so-called ‘coasting’ schools to convert into Academies and is set to precipitate a huge increase in the number of Academies across the country. However, the Bill contains no duty to consult the local community or even parents and teachers, so with both the Church of England and Catholic Church overtly seeking to partner with converting community schools, it is feared that many of these schools could go from having no religious character to becoming run by religious organisations – otherwise known as ‘faith ethos’ Academies.
‘Faith ethos’ Academies and Free Schools are schools that are not legally designated as having a religious character, but nonetheless are run by an organisation with a religious ethos. As such they are entitled to exert control over some aspects of the school on the basis of their religion – they can religiously select all governors, use a religious ‘genuine occupational requirement in appointing senior staff, and also put a religious slant on some aspects of the curriculum, such as sex and relationships education.
Importantly, an Academy can gain or lose a ‘faith ethos’ at any time simply through a change in ownership or by virtue of a converting school’s sponsor being a religious organisation – no discussion or consultation with the local community is required. In effect, therefore, there is very little to prevent schools with no religious character acquiring a ‘faith ethos’ as part of their conversion.
Worryingly, the Government does not have a record of which Academies have a ‘faith ethos’ and have only been recording the ‘faith ethos’ of new Free Schools since 2012. The BHA has previously called for the Government to maintain and publish a list of all ‘faith ethos’ Academies, and reiterated this recommendation in its response to this Bill.
BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman said: ‘“Faith ethos” status is simply a way of getting religion into schools by the back door, and to date the Academies system has been incredibly permissive of this kind of arrangement. The religious powers currently afforded to these schools should be removed and this Bill represents a perfect opportunity to do that.’
For further comment or information, please contact BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 020 7324 3078.
Read the BHA’s submission to the Education and Adoption Bill Public Bill Committee: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015-07-01-BHA-Response-to-Education-and-Adoption-Bill-Public-Bill-Committee.pdf
Read the BHA’s 2012 briefing on ‘faith ethos’ Academies and Free Schools: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/bha-briefing-faith-ethos-academies-and-free-schools-explained.pdf
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: http://humanists.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.