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Exposed: religious organisations gain control over hundreds of state schools

Boy praying or hands claspedMembers of the House of Commons Education Select Committee today heard that hundreds of state schools in England have come under the control of religious organisations as part of the process of converting to academies. Analysis conducted by the British Humanist Association (BHA) has revealed that at least 350 schools with no religious character are now part of multi-academy trusts (MATs) that also contain at least one religious school, with another 17 in the pipeline. These trusts are known as ‘mixed MATs’, and they did not exist before the Coalition Government introduced them. The BHA believes these are a problem as they enable religious groups to exert influence over the ethos, staffing, curriculum and worship in the schools with no religious character.

The BHA, whose Chief Executive Andrew Copson appeared in front of the House of Commons Education Committee today to give evidence on the subject, has described the arrangement as yet another example of the permissiveness of our education system to undue religious influence, and called for robust safeguards to be introduced. Andrew described how as well as controlling who the Trustees of the MAT are, often appointing the majority of the trustees along religious lines, the religious groups also then get some degree of control over the governing bodies of the individual schools, and can therefore change their ethos, senior staffing, and the nature of their collective worship, religious education, and sex and relationships education. Concerns were also expressed about further fragmentation and religious discrimination in the admissions system.

Of the 350 schools with no religious character now in a mixed MAT, 275 are in MATs that also contain Church of England schools. By contrast, there are just 54 Church of England schools in these mixed MATs, which means that the Church of England has gained some level of control over five ‘non-church’ schools for every one of its own schools that has joined a mixed MAT. The remainder of the 350 schools with no religious character are part of generically Christian MATs, or, in three cases, a Muslim MAT.

Whilst the vast majority of these cases have gone unreported until now, many of them have been the subject of significant local opposition. Just earlier this year, for instance, it was revealed that a Church of England-led Academy trust in Newcastle will assume control of four schools with no religious character, if proposals go ahead for them to merge with a single voluntary-aided Church of England primary school. And only a few months ago the Tauheedul Education Trust, which runs a number of Muslim academies around the country, gained control over three community secondary schools in Blackpool and Bradford, resulting in a similar situation and a public statement of opposition from local MP Nick Brown.

Following the hearing, Andrew Copson added ‘The religious groups involved in these “takeovers” sometimes claim that they have no interest in seeking to religiously influence the community schools they now govern, but at other times they describe this as a ‘breathtaking’ opportunity to extent their reach. Unless robust safeguards are introduced into the arrangements for multi-academy trusts so that schools with no religious character stay as such, the level of religious influence in our education system will continue to surge over the next few years. In the face of this threat, we will continue to campaign for the protection of the secular and inclusive nature of community schools in this country, and for the reform of the school and academy system more broadly so that all schools meet this basic standard.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson on richy@humanists.uk or 0207 324 3072.

Read a fuller briefing from the BHA on mixed multi-academy trusts: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016-08-30-Final-Briefing-on-mixed-MATs-oral-evidence.pdf

Read the BHA’s written evidence on multi-academy trusts submitted to the Education Committee: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016-04-05-FINAL-BHA-response-Education-Committee-inquiry-on-Multi-Academy-Trusts.pdf

Watch Andrews evidence before the Education Select Committee (from 10.30 am): http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/226549c5-cf0a-48a8-a50e-f4bb75c4358d

See the full list of academies and their sponsors: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/open-academies-and-academy-projects-in-development

Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘Church of England diocese in “takeover” of primary schools with no religious character’: https://humanists.uk/2016/03/10/church-of-england-diocese-in-takeover-of-primary-schools-with-no-religious-character/

Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: https://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.

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