Education & Family

Church of England plans more schools

Children walking into school
Image caption The Church of England wants to open a quarter of the new free schools promised by the government

The Church of England is planning a major expansion of its schools over the next five years.

The Church says it will bid to open 125 of the 500 new free schools promised by the government by 2020 in a "bold and ambitious vision for education".

A report to Church leaders describes the free schools programme as a "unique opportunity" to enhance its contribution to education.

But the British Humanist Association said the plan was "counterproductive".

The Church of England is already the largest single provider of schools and academies in England, educating about a million pupils in 4,700 schools.

A spokeswoman confirmed that the new schools would be largely secondaries in areas where there is pressure on places.

Ahead of the 2015 election, Prime Minister David Cameron committed his party to creating at least 500 free schools, delivering an extra 270,000 places, if re-elected.

The government maintains that free schools (state-funded, start-up schools, outside local authority control) help improve educational standards.

The plan would give the Church "the opportunity to shape and enhance our provision and to influence the debate about what education is for", the Church's education lead, the Bishop of Ely, the Right Reverend Stephen Conway, told its governing body.

The report, Church of England Vision for Education, says the Church's involvement in education "seeks to promote educational excellence for everyone" and "service the flourishing of a healthy plural society and democracy, together with a healthily plural educational system".

Its vision for education "is hospitable to diversity, respects freedom of religion and belief, and encourages others to contribute from the depths of their own traditions and understandings", says the report.

But British Humanist Association chief executive Andrew Copson described the plans as "entirely out of step with the beliefs of the population and the wishes of the vast majority of parents.

"They severely threaten the rights of children to learn with and from those of other religions and beliefs, to be defined by more than simply the religion or beliefs of their parents and to enjoy a balanced education without fear of discrimination or division.

"Creating more faith schools when the number of people they can appropriately cater for continues to decline is counterintuitive and counterproductive," said Mr Copson.

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