Britain Approves Plan to Partner with Church to Manage School System
The Church of England and the United Kingdom's Department of Education recently have approved an agreement that would allow the Church to oversee thousands of British schools.
The schools in question are privately funded British "academies" introduced by former prime minister Tony Blair in 2000. Such academies are already privately sponsored by businesses, individuals, and even sports teams, according to Religion News Service. Now, the newly approved system also would give the Church of England power to appoint school governors, who function as volunteer officers to monitor schools' performance. The schools also would answer to the Church for curricula, finances, and admissions standards.
The Church already maintains over 4,000 schools—including hundreds of such academies—that educate 1 million children. Both the Church and education secretary Michael Gove claim that the change will raise the quality of education at the schools in addition to providing students with a "'safe and loving learning environment.'"
Though the Church will not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion, secularists fear the Church takeover will create a means for the Church to indoctrinate students. Pavan Dhaliwal, head of public affairs for British Humanist Association, noted that "it is hard to see how these safeguards would be great enough to offset the Church having control of a school's governance. Already the Academies programme is allowing the Church to extend its influence over other schools in ways never previously possible."
According to RNS, Oxford bishop John Pritchard called the measure an opportunity for "mutual support, the drawing together of resources, experiments in collaboration." In 2011, then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams outlined plans for the Church to expand its academic reach, saying, "The Church of England will be quite conceivably the largest sponsor and provider of secondary education in this country, which is a rather startling and breathtaking proposal."
CT has previously reported that a majority of English adults consider a solid grasp of Christianity to be vital to understanding national culture and history, and religious instruction is included even in secular schools. Yet, ineffective teaching of religion may affect evangelism England, even as the practice fuels controversy between religious and secular groups.
CT also has covered the recent debate over admission policies at religion-promoting schools receiving public funds in the U.K.