Backlash against church academies

Controversy is dogging plans for academies supported by Christian groups in at least three areas of England.

Parents on the Isle of Sheppey, off the north Kent coast, say a Church of England academy is being imposed on them with inadequate consultation. It would be the only secondary on the island.

The claim is denied by Kent council, which says it will consult parents if the Government gives the go-ahead. Under the council's plans, the island's primary, middle and upper schools would be replaced by primaries and a secondary. Minster college, Sheppey's secondary, which has been in special measures since 2003, and three successful middle schools would be closed.

Last June the Government received a proposal to replace the schools with an academy sponsored by the Canterbury diocese. The proposal has not been published, but was leaked to the local press and parents. An advert for Minster's new deputy head also says part of the job would be preparing for academy status.

Theresa Longworthy, chair of the action group, which claims to be backed by 253 parents, said: "The council should be more open and honest with parents."

Rupert Bristow, director of education for Canterbury diocese, said he could understand parents' concerns about being kept in the dark, but the project could not progress without government approval.

In Barnsley, a poll of parents on a proposed pound;25 million Christian academy has been ignored after most said they did not want it.

The United Learning Trust, an Anglican charity, which runs 10 private schools and three academies, is a joint backer of the school. An independent report said 48 per cent of people replying to a questionnaire said they were opposed, 13 per cent were unsure and 39 per cent in favour.

But a trust spokesman said an anti-academy campaign by local trade unions had distorted the result Campaigners are also trying to stop an Anglican academy in Leicester, saying it could be racially divisive and cause ill feeling among the city's large Asian community. The Action for Community Schools group has complained to the parliamentary ombudsman about the pound;20m school, due to open in 2007. But the Church said the complaint was pointless because the Government has already approved the project.

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