The Church of England has announced plans to open 125 more schools by 2020, under the government’s free-school programme.
This would mean that more than a quarter of the 500 new free schools the government wants to open by 2020 would be Church of England schools – a move which humanists have described as “entirely out of step with the beliefs of the population”.
A policy paper distributed to members of the Church’s general synod, which met in York at the weekend, states: “There is a unique opportunity for the Church of England to renew and enhance its contribution to the education of our nation’s children, especially through the expansion of Church of England free schools, an opportunity which should be seized wholeheartedly.
“Standing still is not an option: we will either seize the opportunity or our contribution to state education will decline.”
The Conservative party has said that it plans to open 500 new free schools during the current Parliament.
At the moment, the Church of England educates a million pupils in 4,700 schools across the country. According to its own policy document, it currently runs just 11 free schools.
'Stopping the rot'
The Reverend Nigel Genders, chief education officer for the Church of England, said: "The need to set out our stall in an increasingly fragmented educational scene, and where wellbeing of young people is of national concern, is clear.
“Through this vision pupils, parents, new and existing schools and teachers will know how aspiring we are for them and how we will best support them in future years.”
But Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, has criticised the new plans, saying they are “entirely out of step with the beliefs of the population and the wishes of the vast majority of parents”.
He added: “Let’s call this push for increased influence in schooling for what it is: a cynical attempt by the Church to stop the rot and boost its numbers both through the evangelising of children and through the quite shameful practice of requiring parents to sit on pews simply to ensure their children can get a place at a local school.”