Academies programme will see religious groups expand their influence over UK schools

The academies programme will lead to faith groups becoming markedly more powerful, with dozens of new schools run by religious organisations.

Of the 130 academies now open, 47 are either designated faith schools or backed by a religious sponsor.

The Church of England is planning to run 100 academies and hopes for all of those to be signed off by ministers by 2010.

It is already the sponsor of 17 of the semi-independent state schools, with 12 more agreed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Other religious charities, including the United Learning Trust and Oasis, are also major academy players whose stock of schools is likely to expand in coming years. Their schools are not designated faith schools but are run with a Christian ethos.

The CofE academies are all designated faith schools but in most cases there are no faith-based admissions criteria.

Of the 29 schools either opened or agreed, only five give preference on places to children who attend church.

"We want to have a neighbourhood admissions policy because it returns us to our roots of providing education in areas of disadvantage," a spokesman for the Church of England said.

"We only have faith-based admissions when the academy is replacing another Anglican or Roman Catholic school, or where a local authority decides it wants a faith school to widen choice for parents. Even in these schools, only 20 per cent of places are made available on the grounds of faith."

The Church of England has one joint academy with the Roman Catholic Church in Liverpool, with plans for a second academy in Liverpool and another in Cheltenham.

Plans for the first multi-faith academy, which would have teamed the Church of England with a Muslim charity as sponsors of a school in Oldham, were dropped after the local authority lost interest in the project.

The Catholic Education Service said it expected local dioceses would sponsor a small number of academies in the future, but not on the scale planned by the Church of England.

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