Secularists accuse Church of England of schools 'land grab'

State schools are to become academies.Pixabay

Secular campaigners have hit out at the Church of England over its plans to take over four non-religious schools in the North of England.

The move is part of the government's plans to turn all state schools into academies in a bid to raise standards.

The Diocese of Newcastle is to set up a multi-academy trust (MAT) comprising five schools, only one of which is a Church of England school.

According to Schools Week, it says the ethos of the secular schools will be protected. However, the National Secular Society has described it as a "deeply anti-secular development".

Stephen Evans, the society's campaigns director, said: "If this MAT goes ahead it's hard to see how the non-religious schools within it can realistically be protected from an encroaching religious ethos, particularly if the most senior people in the trust are all advancing the interests of the Church."

A spokesman for the diocese said each school's governing body would be tasked with protecting its current ethos.

Evans also raised the issue of land ownership. The NSS said in its draft submission to the education select committee's inquiry into MATs: "In many cases public land will be transferred from local authorities and placed under control of the local diocese for 125 years, and, given the permission of the secretary of state, the church could use it however it likes.

"We regard this as a deeply anti-secular development and we urge the committee to raise the democratic deficit of this potential 'land grab' with the department."

However, the diocesan spokesperson said: "As with any academisation of non-church schools, the land will transfer to the trust company.

"Such land could not be sold without secretary of state consent and would be likely to be subject to certain conditions such as reinvestment into educational purposes.

"The trust will be a charitable company so any decisions taken must be in accordance with the charitable objects of the company."