Church of England leaders were lobbied last week by senior government advisers to play a leading role in their academy programme, setting up quasi-independent schools in socially deprived areas.
Andrew Adonis, senior policy adviser on public services, and Neil Flint, head of the programme, told a meeting at the General Synod that the church should become a major partner in creating 53 new academies by 2007. A dozen have already been created, one of them opened by the Church of England.
"We were already involved but we take great encouragement that the Government has now told us they want us to play a major part in the programme," said the Rt Rev Dr Kenneth Stevenson, the Bishop of Portsmouth and chairman of the Church of England's education board.
The church sees it as a way of helping it reach its target of creating 100 new secondary schools by 2007, envisaged in a report by Lord Dearing.
Individual dioceses have to raise the pound;2 million sponsorship for a new academy (with the Government paying the rest of the costs) but it is believed they will be able to access the Dearing Fund, which was set up to help achieve the 100 schools and has so far raised around pound;25m.
Dr Stevenson added that as a result of the meeting the dioceses will co-ordinate their efforts better and offer each other advice on setting up academies.