Underperforming community schools at risk of faith based ‘power grab’

December 10, 2018

The Accord Coalition has warned that the inclusive ethos of community schools is under threat from them joining faith based academy chains. The comments have been prompted in response to news that the Joseph Swan Academy in Gateshead may join a local faith based academy chain, the Emmanuel Schools Foundation.

Under government rules, Joseph Swan Academy is required to seek out a new academy trust after it was rated as ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted earlier this year. Teachers at one of the Emmanuel Foundation’s schools, the Emmanuel College, have previously been accused of supporting young earth creationism (that the universe was created within the last 10,000 years) as scientifically valid.

Although community schools that join a faith based academy chain may not operate a religiously discriminatory pupil admissions policy, their character may change and become more exclusive, such as via changes to the curriculum and assemblies provided. Under current laws, non-faith schools may provide pupils with daily Christian worship. The governors and potentially also senior teachers at these community schools could be selected on religious grounds.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Reverend Stephen Terry, said ‘Community schools seek to cater to people from different backgrounds, and they usually operate in ways that are inclusive of people from across society. It is a sign of how little valued inclusive schooling is by central government that community schools which join a faith academy chain are at risk from having to adhere to a narrow religious outlook of their sponsor.’

‘The school system should not facilitate an unsightly power grab over the minds of children. Instead, state funded schools should bring together and serve fairly people from across their local community. The government should put in place safeguards to protect the character of community schools joining faith academy chains, and make much more ambitious changes to ensure faith schools are genuinely accessible to people from different religious and non-religious backgrounds.’

Accord has previously warned of the risk of community schools joining faith academy schools becoming faith schools ‘by the back door’. In contrast, the Government has entered into memoranda of understanding with Church of England education authorities and the Catholic Church to ensure they maintain control over their schools which become academies or join multi-academy trusts that include non-denominational schools.

In 2017 the religion and belief analysis website Patheos published a distressing testimony of a former pupil who came out at Emmanuel College, which is available here. In 2016 it published another testimony of a former Emmanuel College pupil who claimed they were taught creationism, available here.

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