Diocese accused of lack of openness after refusing to work with secular academy trust to save village Church school

May 22, 2018

A secular academy trust has criticised its local Church of England (CofE) diocese for preventing it from taking over a struggling Church school. The South Farnham Educational Trust had offered to allow the undersubscribed Ripley CofE Primary School in Surrey to join its academy chain. However, Schools Week report that the proposal was rejected and has been criticised by the Diocese of Guildford on the grounds that the trust would not be able to uphold the school’s Christian ethos.

The offer was rejected despite a local Church of England infant school already being supported by the trust as an ‘associate member’. Ripley CofE Primary School – the only school in its village – is now set to close later this year having been put into special measures by Ofsted and having failed to find an academy sponsor.

The Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Reverend Stephen Terry, said ‘Church of England officials regularly state their schools are open to the wider community, and this is how Church schools should operate, as an expression of the warmth and generosity of the Church’s mission to society. However, this is often still not the case, with many schools still allowed to operate a religiously selective admissions policy.’

‘Give this lack of openness, Ripley Primary School’s local residents are entitled to ask whether they are to lose a valued educational setting because of some Church education officials being averse to wider and secular society. If Church schools really are there to serve local communities then diocesan officials should be flexible and explore all avenues to ensure Ripley Primary can stay open, rather than allow it to close and deny a village its school.’

Accord has previously warned that arrangements for community and faith schools joining the same academy trust were focused on ensuring excessive denominational influence and that community schools lacked protections to ensure their ethos was properly respected. In 2016 the Department for Education published agreements with the National Society and Catholic Church setting out that they would not lose control over schools joining secular academy trusts. However, no similar public agreements about protecting the character of community schools joining faith academy chains have been set out.

Last June Accord criticised plans for the Diocese of Newcastle to directly appoint two and co-appoint a third of five directors of a multi-academy trust that runs eight community schools. The proposed influence of the diocese would result from just one of its primary schools joining the trust.

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