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Religious landgrab continues as Church tries to gain control of nine non-church schools

The Church of England is proposing to assume overall control of a multi-academy trust (MAT) in Northumberland despite only one of the nine schools in the proposed MAT having a religious character.

In a letter to parents and carers seen by Humanists UK, plans are outlined for the creation of ‘The Tynedale Community Trust’, comprising nine local schools with no religious character and one voluntary-controlled Church of England school. Existing model arrangements issued by the Department for Education dictate that the Church should be entitled to appoint 25% of the MAT’s board members (a figure that in itself is too high), but the letter ignores this and instead proposes that the Church will directly appoint two of the five board members and jointly appoint a third along with the 10 schools involved.  A majority of the MAT’s members will therefore be appointed by or linked to the church.

Despite having been announced just last week, the plans are already being met by local opposition. An ex-parent governor of one of the 10 schools, who has resigned over this matter, said, ‘This is nothing short of a church takeover of nine non-church schools, and any parents wishing to guard against church influence in their children’s education should be rightly worried.’ ‘The safeguards in place for non-church schools within this kind of arrangement are woefully inadequate’, the parent added.

Indeed, this is by no means an isolated incident. Last year, for instance, a Church of England-led MAT in Newcastle gained control of four schools with no religious character after proposals for those schools to merge with a single voluntary-aided CofE primary school were approved by the Government. The merge meant that the local Diocese assumed a majority of seats on the board of the newly created ‘mixed-MAT’, despite there being only one ‘faith’ school in the trust. And research presented by Humanists UK to the House of Commons Education Committee last year revealed that at least 350 schools with no religious character in England are now part of MATs in which religious organisations have some level of control. These trusts, known as ‘mixed MATs’, enable religious groups to exert influence over the ethos, staffing, worship arrangements and curriculum policies, particular in subjects like Religious Education and Relationships and Sex Education, of schools that are not designated with a religious character.  

A consultation on the proposals in Tynedale will run until 5pm on 7 July 2017. The consultation form can be found here

Humanists UK Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘We must call this out for what it is: a religious landgrab which seeks to circumnavigate the decline of religion in this country by quietly entrenching the place of the church in our education system more generally. This cannot be allowed to happen and we encourage everyone in the area to respond to the consultation expressing their opposition. We continue to urge the Government and the other parties to review the legal arrangements for mixed MATs so that religious organisations are not able to gain so much control over schools with which they should have nothing to do.’

Notes

For further comment of information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on jay@humanists.uk or 0207 324 3078.

The 10 schools involved in the proposed ‘Tynedale Community Trust’ are:

  • Corbridge Middle School;
  • Highfield Middle School;
  • Mickley First School;
  • Ovingham C of E First School;
  • Ovingham Middle School;
  • Prudhoe Castle First School;
  • Prudhoe Community High School;
  • Whittonstall and Broomley Federation of First Schools; and
  • Wylam First School.

Respond to the consultation: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/FINAL-Consultation-Response-Form.pdf.

Read the letter to parents/carers announcing the proposals: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017-05-31-Letter-to-Parents-MAT-Tynedale.pdf

Read the Humanist UK news item ‘Exposed: religious organisations gain control over hundreds of state schools’: https://humanists.uk/2016/09/07/exposed-religious-organisations-gain-control-over-hundreds-of-state-schools/

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

Read the Humanist UK news item ‘CofE 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/

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