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Church schools' influence spreads

The Church of England will ask its secondary schools to federate with struggling neighbours as part of the Government's drive to instil traditional values in children.

The move as part of a deal to make all Anglican secondaries specialists and follows calls from Tony Blair, a keen supporter of faith schools, for more federations with high-performing specialists.

But some clergymen question the increasing role of the Church in state education, fearing that Anglican schools are elitist.

Richard Bentley, vicar of St Peter's church, Petersham, Surrey, said: "In its indecent haste to benefit from the Government's misguided delight in church schools, the Church of England is colluding with forces which threaten to divide society and disinherit children."

The proposal, drawn up by the C of E and the Specialist Schools Trust, reflects the Church's growing influence in education and could trigger a boom in the number of schools becoming Anglican.

John Hall, the Church's chief education officer, said: "The reason most church schools are popular with parents is the values they attempt to instil. That is something that should be duplicated elsewhere." But critics say church schools are successful because they control admissions and therefore attract ambitious parents.

David Jennings, rector of Burbage, Leicestershire, said: "The Church came into education for the poor. That is not what it is doing now. It is providing education for the high-flyers, the middle-classes and the go-getters."

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools Trust and a key adviser to Mr Blair, refused to discuss the plans but admitted the Government was keen to make better use of church schools.

Labour has shown huge support for faith schools and in July pledged pound;550 million to rebuild every faith secondary, reversing a 60-year rule requiring churches to contribute to building costs.

This summer's GCSE results showed that 46 of the 100 top-rated comprehensives were faith schools. But official figures reveal that Anglican primaries admit fewer children from deprived families and research by the National Foundation for Educational Research has shown that faith schools add no more value than other state schools.

There are around 3,400 state secondaries, more than 200 of which are Anglican. In July The TES revealed that more than 40 secondaries have become Church schools in the past four years. Anglican leaders are also in talks with 54 comprehensives considering a switch or becoming a C of E-sponsored academy.

Canon Hall denied the specialist deal would result in more conversions, pointing to a scheme run by the Guildford diocese, Surrey, where non-faith schools can purchase services like teacher training and RE tuition for around pound;400.

Marilyn Mason, education officer with the British Humanist Association, said: "By continuing to support faith schools the Government undermines the good work that goes on in the vast majority of ordinary community schools."

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* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

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