THE Church of England is the “cornerstone” of the education system in the UK and has an important working relationship with the Government, the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, has said.
Mr Hinds was speaking on Tuesday, after holding a meeting with faith leaders to discuss the benefits of translating faith schools into academies. The C of E and Methodist and Roman Catholic Churches, and the Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, and Hindu faiths were represented.
He told the group that faith schools had “led the way in embracing” education reforms, with free schools and academies. “I want to see even more faith schools enjoying the benefits of academy conversion, with even more faith groups using the exciting opportunity the free-schools route provides.”
It came after data published by the Government last week stated that more than half the pupils in state-funded schools were studying in academies or free schools.
He said afterwards: “The Church of England is the biggest name in primary education in this country, and in secondary education as well. It has long been a cornerstone partner in our education system.
“[Church schools] in urban communities and in rural [areas] and villages get typically good results and are an important part of the system; therefore, my relationship with the Church as Education Secretary is also important.”
Asked whether the Government was pushing for all schools in the UK, including faith schools, to become academies in the long term, he said: “You can have — and do have — exceptional schools of all sorts, and we are blessed in having that diversity in that system. We will continue to have that diversity; but there are advantages to becoming an academy, and particularly joining a group of schools in an academies trust. I am keen to promote those opportunities.”
Mr Hinds said that he was also encouraging more people to “step forward” to become governors and trustees of academies. His comments follow criticism that the pool of high-calibre people willing to devote their time to running an academy company, without pay, is running dry (Features, 9 February 2018).
The Government had recently increased its resources for training governors, he said. “A multi-academy trust is an opportunity for people who want to give back to society through education to do so on a wider scale, not just being a governor — or parent-governor — of your local school.”
He insisted that people still wanted to volunteer. “Some people don’t know what the opportunities are, and that is what we are trying to promote. Churches can play an important part as well in spreading that message.”
Schools are given £25,000 to cover the costs of the transition to become an academy, but critics have said that this does not stretch far, particularly since local authorities have started to charge for the costs that they incur in the handover.
The main advantage of academies was not about finances, Mr Hinds said. “It is possible to give financial support through conversion, or when changing the Trust you are in when it is necessary, but the fundamental point is about the essence of the school and its collaboration with others in the group.”
He was “keen” to increse the number of faith schools. “It is a shame that we are not getting that message from the Opposition. [Labour] talk of a ‘common rule-book’ — it is not totally clear what that means, but faith schools are able to make different arrangements on admissions, and it is not clear how the common rule-book would threaten that exactly.”
The “great things” that Churches and faith groups did in society were often under-appreciated, he said. “I want to make sure we continue to celebrate faith schools and their strengths. . . We do have to keep making this case, because there are people opposed to state-funded faith schools.”
The Church’s chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, said on Tuesday: “The Church of England, collectively, is the biggest sponsor of academies in the UK. These play a key role in our education provision, alongside those schools with a local authority relationship. We are committed to the flourishing of children and young people across a variety of educational settings.”