Hundreds of community and
voluntary controlled schools will be able to join voluntary aided
schools in church-led multi-academy trusts while retaining their
former characteristics, it has been announced.
The move has been made
possible by a technical change to the academy funding arrangements
agreed between the Department for Education and the Church of
England. Each type of school would retain its existing
A briefing giving details
of the move was sent to diocesan education boards, after a meeting
at Lambeth Palace last week between the Secretary of State for
Education, Michael Gove, and bishops and education leaders from
every English diocese.
The Revd Nigel Genders,
who leads C of E national schools policy, said that the changes
would make it possible for community schools that became academies
to work structurally with dioceses, making official what has been
increasingly happening unofficially since government changes
effectively weakened local authorities. It also enables dioceses to
look after aided and controlled church schools in the same
Colin Hopkins, director
of education at Lichfield, and a former chair of the DDEs'
association, said that diocesan education teams would welcome the
new arrangements. "This is a pragmatic decision, which will enable
local schools to group together and work in partnership," he
But the changes would
mean more work for education staff, he warned, and would have to be
paid for by legally enforceable contracts between the dioceses and
the schools involved in the trusts.
Last week's announcement
underlines Mr Gove's wish for an expansion in the part played by
the Church in education, which was reiterated at the Lambeth
meeting last week. The C of E is already the biggest sponsor of
academies, and has been taking on underperforming and challenging
schools for more than two decades.
At the same time, there
has been a growing trend for community schools to affiliate to
dioceses, a development deplored by secularist organisations.
Mixing community and church schools in church-led academy trusts
would extend religious influence over state schools "hugely and
irreversibly", Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular
Society, said last week.
But the Bishop of Oxford,
the Rt Revd John Pritchard, chairman of the Board of Education,
said that the character of community and controlled schools would
be respected. Predicting that many small village schools would want
to join the trusts, he promised: "They will be safe with us."
reconsidered. Mr Gove's admission at Lambeth Palace last
week that religious education might have been an unintended
casualty of the Government's significant education reforms, and his
promise of "revitalised discussions" with RE experts, have been
cautiously welcomed by the RE Council.
The chairman of the Council, John Keast, said: "The proof of the
pudding is in the eating. We'd like to see Mr Gove's promises
backed up by some positive action to address these issues."