AS WE enter 2015, it is hard to believe that we are in the last
months of a Coalition Government that will have lasted for a full
parliamentary term of five years.
Much has changed in the world of education since 2010, even
though schools, unlike tuition fees, were not a significant feature
of the 2010 election campaign.
In May 2010, Michael Gove arrived as a Secretary of State in a
hurry. He piloted the first main piece of legislation, the 2010
Academies Act, through Parliament, before MPs and peers had even
reached their summer holidays.
This piece of legislation allowed successful schools to opt for
the freedoms of academy status, and built on the Labour
government's previous programme of sponsored academies.
It also created a new class of school: "additional", or "free"
as they have universally become known. These schools allowed anyone
to seek state funding for a school, with almost no rules, except
that admissions could not be completely restricted to a particular
group in society. In some areas of the country, these schools have
become largely the province of religious groups.
Less commonly, they have been started by parents and others
dissatisfied with the local school system, who are not prepared to
work for change within the existing system.
AFTER an initial flourish, and oodles of public money, the
number of such schools, has, in most areas, subsided to a trickle.
Where they have been most prominent is in areas where there is
pressure on primary-school places, owing to a bulge in the birth
The Church of England has opened schools under the "free school"
banner, and there are Jewish and Muslim free schools as well.
What is noticeable about the free schools now listed by the DfE,
however, is the increasing number of schools for those aged 14 to
18, or 16 to 18, rather than primary or secondary schools, as
originally intended. The 14-18 schools fall into two categories:
studio schools, and University Technical Colleges. Both types are
vocational in concept, and likely to take pupils at 14 from
neighbouring schools, including church schools.
Like many of the innovations during this Parliament, there is
little evidence of rational planning. In some areas, several such
schools have been established, while other localities remain
relatively free from change.
One reform that has affected all parts of England is the
establishment of a nationwide network of Regional Commissioners,
responsible for the development of all types of academy. Unlike
their Police and Crime Commissioner colleagues, the education
commissioners are unelected: they are appointed by the DfE,
although with elected support from among other heads in their
region. Commissioners will not necessarily have a background
understanding of the voluntary sector and its historical place in
the school system.
Taken together, these significant changes have cut dramatically
the part played by local authorities in education. The Church of
England, too, has learned that it can no longer assume that the
partnership hammered out with the government in 1944 - which still
has legal force - and the existence of the voluntary sector will
THE Church, after largely acquiescing as the school system in
England changed beyond recognition under a Secretary of State
determined to create a market-based system freed from the shackles
of those he once labelled "blobs", needs to clarify its educational
This Government appears finally to have broken the cosy
relationship between Church and State brokered all those years ago
by R. A. Butler, in the 1944 Education Act.
The part played by the Churches, and especially the Church of
England, as major providers of primary schooling across England,
cannot last in its present format for much longer. Surely it is
time for a complete reappraisal of the part played by faith groups
in our education system.