Shropshire County Council Cabinet has decided to proceed with its plan to create six new faith schools. Twelve existing schools are to be closed, the pupils from each pair going to a new faith school.
Four of the schools to be closed are inclusive Community Schools. The changes will result in the loss of hundreds of community school places to the advantage of the Church of England. The chairman of Governors of at least two of the community schools destined to close do not want to become part of a faith school, and fear the religious agenda.
In the cases where both schools in the pairing are already CofE, the proposals have still been skewed in the Church’s favour. One of the existing CofE schools is ‘voluntary controlled’ by the local authority, meaning that local authority governors are in the majority. This status will be lost, and the combined school will be Voluntary Aided (run entirely by the Church, with a majority of governors representing the Church).
When Church schools originally came into being, the Church, along with public donations, provided most of the capital and running costs. Over the years, the Church has found ways to get the tax payer to foot the bill. Today, the Church is not expected to pay anything toward ‘voluntary controlled’ CofE schools, and just 10% of the capital for ‘voluntary aided’ schools (these schools have a majority of governors appointed by the Church). The proposals approved by Shropshire County Council have been configured so that the rate payer / tax payer will pay even this 10% as well. The Council ought to be acting for the benefit of the rate-payer rather than the Church, but its actions suggest a different agenda.
Both dioceses of the Church of England that cover these schools advocate closing fully inclusive Community Schools in order to create their new sectarian schools. The only merger the CofE object to is the one where both original schools are already under their maximum control.
The proposals are now in consultation for a further month, but since the objections earlier in the process appear to have been ignored, only a major public awareness campaign or legal action could stop the plans going ahead.
Connor Birch, Chair of Marches Secularists, which covers Shropshire, Herefordshire, and Powys, was interviewed by Radio Shropshire on Sunday morning. He pointed out that Church Schools do no better than any other type of school with a similar intake. The fact that Connor made his points well, and it was a pro-religion programme, may account for the shortness of the interview.
Connor claimed “The Church of England is an extremely wealthy organisation with over £5.5bn in investments. While the genuine poor in society are being given free school meals, the Church is being given free schools”.
Connor believes that the time has come to make it unlawful for the State to provide capital funds for ‘faith’ schools. This step would stem the unpopular growth of faith schools, especially those most likely to be fanatical. While it would leave a long way to go, it would be an achievable step in the right direction.
Check out the Marches Secularists’ website.