The Church of England's education chief has countered warnings that struggling faith schools risk being taken over by the government and turned into academies.
Rev Nigel Genders, the Church's chief education officer, said: "Our schools are about far more than the land or the buildings we own, they are about the education we provide for the whole child. We are a big player and any reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated. We look forward to continuing discussions with Government."
Columnist Laura McInerney wrote in The Guardian that the Education and Adoption Bill currently going through Parliament will require the government "to grab land from the churches" under measures that compel the education secretary to force a takeover of schools rated by inspectors as inadequate.
"No discretion will be allowed. If the school is not yet an academy, it will be pushed into becoming one," she wrote.
There are currently more than 4,500 Church of England, more than 2,000 Catholic, more than 30 Jewish and more than 11 Muslim state maintained schools, a third of the total. There are also few Hindu, Sikh and other faith schools. The Roman Catholic Church ruled out opening any new Catholic academies because of a cap on faith-based admissions. The faiths own the land and the buildings of these schools.
"To the sort of mind that writes laws from an ivory tower, this smash-and-grab plan sounds great. 'We have failing schools,' the policymaker thinks, 'so we'll just go in and take them away from the poor management, and give them to other managers who are more effective.' Yes, sure, taking things from people without their consent is sometimes called 'robbery', but this is all about public money and all in the name of a good education for kids, so let's just call it a job well done and get off to the pub early," McInerney wrote.
"If a faith school is rated inadequate, the secretary of state will be legally required to intervene and take the school from its owners (a particular church) and give it to an academy trust, which may or may not have a religious character. But the church owns the land and the school. So we have a situation where Nicky Morgan will pass a law literally requiring her to thieve schools from the church."
The Bill does allow for this and includes a clause which states that the secretary of state must "consult" with religious bodies before choosing new managers for their schools.
Genders conceded in his response that proposed powers would mean the Secretary of State will be legally required to intervene and pass the school to an academy trust where it is rated inadequate.
"However in any circumstances Church schools must continue to operate with the same ethos and emphasis; they can't just dispense with their essential Church of England character. This means we will be consulted about the identity of any sponsor for any Church of England academy. Details of the consultation and what it will actually mean in practice are still being discussed."
The Church is working with the Government on a document to spell out how this should be done.
On McInerney's comment that the Bill will compel the education secretary to take over church schools rated by inspectors as inadequate, he added: "We don't see it like that."