Church of England to Open 100 New Academy Schools

The Church of England is expected to open 100 academy schools over the next five years, as part of Prime Minister Tony Blair's attempt to cement controversial education reforms before he leaves office. Church officials will take direct control of a multimillion-pound expansion programme, following a deal struck with education ministers this week.

A central plank of education reforms has been formed by faith schools, which are state funded but privately run.

Last night the Church, which runs five academies and more than 200 other secondary schools, said there was growing demand from parents and pupils. Nick McKemey, its school improvement officer, said: "We have committed ourselves to providing good schools for the poorest. We're not looking for a short-term rise in exam results or for trophy schools, but for long-term improvement."

Under the plans, individual dioceses will be free to open academies, which will be overseen by the newly formed Church of England Academies Services Ltd.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "This sort of activity by sponsors demonstrates the added value sponsors can bring and the importance they place on improving educational opportunities for pupils."

The move drew criticism from the National Secular Society. "The Church of England cannot get children into church, so it is determined to bring church into school, where the children have no choice and no escape," said Terry Sanderson, its president. "It is Mr Blair's final, self-indulgent gift to the religious establishment."

The Church will put forward £1.5m per academy in return for a large degree of control as part of the plans. According to a spokesman, they would have a Christian ethos but would be open to children of all faiths or none.

While there are 46 academies, Blair wants to increase that number to 400. This week, David Cameron announced the Tories would expand the programme.

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