Recent press reports that I have advocated that Church schools should lose control over their admission policies are totally without foundation. I have made no such speech. At the Technology Colleges Conference in November 1996 I made it clear we opposed selection by grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges. Voluntary-aided schools were not mentioned.
Local government has good relations with both the Anglican and Catholic education authorities. Two very productive meetings were held recently, and another is being arranged. The part played by Church authorities in preventing the Government from forcing all Church schools to opt out was decisive and local government welcomed that.
The Labour party in its document Diversity and Excellence praised the relationship between local authorities and the Churches and there are no plans to alter this arrangement.
What local government is discussing with the Church authorities is the role of church schools in our multi-racial society. The rights of children of different religions have to be considered as part of our school provision. Local authorities and the Churches are working together over the content of religious education syllabuses and school assemblies. The Churches themselves realise that holding a school assembly every day is often both impractical and counter-productive. Only MPs are preventing a change in the law but until then schools will have to continue to break the law. Fewer, more meaningful assemblies would be a better approach.
LEAs and Church authorities are working closely together to develop appropriate religious syllabuses for each area. All children need an understanding of different religions and cultures if we are to prevent religious conflict in the future; all of us need to appreciate different religious and cultural customs. Where schools are closed for religious festivals such as Diwali, the Church authorities have been helpful in supporting the LEA over the decision to do this.
On the question of moral values, the churches are keen to work with the LEA to place such values at the heart of the education system. In particular, combating racism is something we can do together.
Although LEAs are not the employers of staff in voluntary-aided schools, that has not caused serious problems but it does mean that the role of the LEA representation on church school governing bodies is crucial, especially over industrial relations and equal opportunity employment matters.
We have also been discussing whether the LEAs should administer the admission arrangements of church schools. Some already do. This is not devising the policy on admissions but providing a service for the schools and diocesan boards. Many parents would find it easier to deal with only one body over school admissions and the practicalities of this continue to be explored.
The 1944 Education Act agreement on Church schools was historic and has stood the test of time. Clearly a changing world needs both partners to see how the agreement should develop and what changes are needed. It is in that spirit of partnership that LEAs and the church authorities are continuing to work.
Therefore, it is not helpful for people to suggest that I am advocating that Church schools should end their right to devise admission policies on religious grounds. I have not done that nor does that represent Association of Metropolitan Authorities policy. Letters have been sent to the Church authorities making this clear and therefore I hope the press will cease listening to anyone who claims the opposite.
Policy in local government is decided openly and democratically. There are no plans to change the constructive relationship we have with the diocesan boards of both the Anglican and Catholic churches.
Graham Lane is chair of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities' education committee.