British government asks church to take over thousands of state schools

CANTERBURY, England — Leading secularists are calling on nonreligious parents to fight a government effort that would allow the Church … Continued

CANTERBURY, England — Leading secularists are calling on nonreligious parents to fight a government effort that would allow the Church of England to run thousands of state schools.

The schools, or academies, would be privately funded, quasi-independent and accountable to the church for their curricula, organization, admission policies and teachers’ pay and conditions.

As of July, there were 3,049 such academies operating in England, many financed by businessmen, finance companies, supermarkets, football clubs and a growing number of faith-based organizations including the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church and the largest of all — the Church of England.

Following a recent agreement between the Department of Education and the church, thousands more state-run schools could be taken over by the church.

Under this new undertaking, bishops would be given the power to appoint school governors — unpaid private citizens who volunteer to oversee the performance of educational institutions.

The Church of England — a pioneer in the field of education in the early days of the 19th century — already runs more than 5,000 schools, several hundred of them academies.

The church’s work bringing the gospel and “three R’s” (’reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic) to impoverished working class children is well documented.

It was only in 1870 that the government accepted a responsibility for educating children here.

So the church’s educational track record is greatly admired as well as criticized by many secularists who say the days when Christian philanthropists gave their time and money to educate the poor should be a thing of the past.

“The Church of England is rapidly changing its focus from its primary purpose — church worship — which has failed spectacularly, with empty pews all over the country, to getting its message out in schools,” said Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society.

He called on parents who might be uneasy with the new deal between government and church to “make their feelings known both to schools and, more importantly, politicians.”

Added Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood: “Nonreligious and religiously unconcerned families are now in the majority and this move will further alienate them from the education system. This will surreptitiously bring the education system under religious control. Once our schools have been taken over by religious interests, it will be almost impossible to ever bring them back under community control.”

Academies were set up under Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2000.

While the governments of Blair, and now David Cameron, insist academies will raise standards throughout Britain and enable the country to catch up with its educational model state — Finland — there is also a belief that the present cash-strapped government is anxious to lessen its financial commitment to education by encouraging the formation of privately sponsored academies.

The Church of England insists that state schools that become academies under its control will lead to higher educational standards and not the Christian “indoctrination” of pupils that the National Secular Society fears.

Oxford Bishop John Pritchard, who oversees education policy within the Church of England, said he expects many small village primary schools, which educate children aged five to 11, will want to link up with the church academy chains.

“I think people may not realize the significance of what looks like a small technical change but actually allows the mutual support, the drawing together of resources, experiments in collaboration,” he said. “It allows a whole lot more and it will enhance the educational experience of millions of children.”

About three-quarters of church schools are judged as “good” by Ofsted, Britain’s official body for inspecting schools, compared with 57 percent of secular schools in the UK.

Pritchard predicted a “steady, faster” growth in the number of church-led academy chains and said that in years to come the academy status would become “the norm” for church schools.

But Education Minister Michael Gove raised eyebrows when he told The Times that he wanted the church to recover “the spirit which infused its educational mission in Victorian times.”

The new archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, suggested the Christian mission would continue.

“It is obviously true that good schools help produce an educated workforce,” Welby said. “But the Christian vision is a far greater one. It is about setting a framework for children as they learn, which enables them to be confident when faced with the vast challenges that rapidly changing culture bring to us.”

England has an established church and no constitutional principle of freedom of religious exercise. But the state allows other religious groups to worship freely alongside the established church.

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Religion News Service LLC.

  • Rongoklunk

    I was raised in a Anglican school in the UK. That’s why I’m an atheist. They don’t push religion at you. We sang a hymn in the morning, and had a reading or two about the bible maybe once or twice a week. It wasn’t enough to be called indoctrination. And nobody insisted that we believe in a great invisible skygod, or an afterlife. So the few who believed in gods were indoctrinated in their own time, at home and/or in a church or mosque. Socially, you don’t find many people who believe in a god anymore, in the UK, or in Canada. People are being educated beyond ancient superstition. The day may come when the only religious people in the UK will be Muslims and Hindus. Everybody else will be nonbelievers.

Read More Articles

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

shutterstock_186566975
Hey Bart Ehrman, I’m Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You’ve Got Him All Wrong

Why the debate over Jesus’ divinity matters.

shutterstock_148333673
Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

shutterstock_53190298
Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

shutterstock_186090179
How Passover Makes the Impossible Possible

When we place ourselves within the story, we can imagine new realities.

This Passover, We’re Standing at an Unparted Red Sea

We need to ask ourselves: What will be the future of the State of Israel — and what will it require of us?

pews
Just As I Am

My childhood conversion to Christianity was only the first of many.

shutterstock_127731035 (1)
Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

In an age of rising singlehood, many churches are still focused on being family ministry centers.

2337221655_c1671d2e5e_b
Mysterious Tremors

People like me who have mystical experiences may be encountering some unknown Other. What can we learn about what that Other is?

bible
Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing

That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.

csl_wall_paper
What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.