12th September 1997 at 01:00
I am a new parent governor in our village school, which I assumed was a church school - it is next to the church and has the same name. As I had been a governor of a church school before, I thought I knew all about it. But there I was the only parent governor and nearly everybody else seemed to be nominated by the church. Here there is more of a balance and we are about to co-opt two people.

But what totally bewilders me is the religious side. There are some children who now have RE lessons in the church hall, who are taught by a teacher whose appointment had to be approved by the church governors. Other children have normal RE lessons from their own teacher. They all have the same assembly which has a strong church feeling about it. Can you help me make sense of it?

A controlled school is a church-provided school, like the aided school where you were before. But at the time of the 1944 Act some church schools could not afford the financial burden of outside repairs which in other cases have to be paid for (at least in part) by the voluntary body which provided the school.

They became controlled schools, which occupy a position between a county school and an aided school. All their costs are borne by the council, which is the employer of the staff, owns the buildings and makes admission rules. There are, however, church representatives on the governing body - though not as many as in aided schools, which have only one elected parent governor and no co-options - and all but the smallest controlled schools have the right to a proportion of "reserved teachers", who must be acceptable to the foundation governors as fit persons to teach RE, and who can also be dismissed by them.

Collective worship is provided for the generality of children as laid down in the school's trust deed or on the same basis as before it became controlled. But religious teaching in controlled schools is not denominational. It follows the agreed syllabus negotiated for all county and controlled schools locally, allowing for other faiths established in the area. What takes place in your church hall is the provision made by law for any children whose parents formally request RE in accordance with the trust deed or pre-1944 practice, that is, teaching of a denominational character. The foundation governors are responsible for informing parents that they have this right and for ensuring that provision is made for those who request it.

This provision is separate from the right which all parents have to withdraw their children from collective worship or RE on grounds of principle, or the right in certain circumstances to arrange for them to have instruction off the premises in their own faith. Your parents also have the right peculiar to controlled schools to choose religious instruction close to the school's original ethos and provided by the school. In aided schools, all children receive denominational RE and collective worship.

There is no mention of controlled schools in the recent consultation paper on the education framework issued by the Department for Education and Employment, and although it is possible that there will be some simplificati on of structure, the Government says it intends to keep the special ethos of voluntary schools.

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