Faith school providers encouraged to take further advantage of academisation power grab

May 5, 2021

The Department for Education is to provide financial support for the creation of more Church of England and Catholic academy trusts so that more local authority-maintained Church schools become academies. The Education Secretary announced the support last week as part of efforts to increase the number of schools in England that operate in a multi-academy trust.

Since then it has been reported that £1.25 million of taxpayer funds is to be spent to support the establishment of a Catholic academy trust based in the North West. Meanwhile, a further £800,000 will go towards a ‘Diocesan Trust Formation Pilot’ that will support the development of up to nine diocesan academy trusts, both Church of England and Catholic.

The curriculum and appointment of governors are two areas where a faith school in a multi-academy trust is at particular risk of operating in a more religiously exclusive way than a maintained faith school. Local authority-maintained faith schools must follow the National Curriculum and have a proportion of their governors appointed by the local authority. In contrast, academy schools do not need to follow the National Curriculum, while faith schools in a multi-academy trust have all governors except their parent governors appointed by the trust, who may be appointed for religious reasons.

Accord has previously warned about a lack of safeguards to ensure the character of community schools is upheld if they join a faith based academy chain and highlighted risks of undue denominational influence over non-faith academy trusts that admit faith schools. Agreements are in place to ensure Church of England and Catholic authorities maintain control over their schools which either become an academy or join a multi-academy trust that include non-denominational schools. However, no comparable agreements exist to protect the ethos of community schools or non-faith-based trusts.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Revd Stephen Terry, said ‘The growth of faith-based academy chains enables sponsors of faith schools to have more control over state funded schools. It is therefore concerning that the two largest providers of state funded faith schools are effectively being encouraged by the Government to increase their power over schools, without any corresponding measures to ensure schools operate in more religiously inclusive ways. This demonstrates how little the Government currently values religiously inclusive education.’

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