Ministers put faith in schools

20th January 2006 at 00:00
Nine out of 10 attempts by faith groups to gain control of schools in the past eight years have been approved, official government figures show.

The findings show the support shown for Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh education since Labour came to power in 1997.

In total, 112 applications were made by religious organisations to take over community schools - turning them into faith-based primaries and secondaries - and 103 were supported.

The Government has made no secret of its backing for faith education and Tony Blair has driven reforms to create a new wave of academies and "trust"

schools run by independent organisations, including churches. Christian groups, such as the Church of England and the United Learning Trust, an Anglican charity, now account for more than a third of academy sponsors.

But new figures obtained by The TES show that inspectors believe that fewer faith schools are "highly effective" - Ofsted's top mark - compared to those without a religious ethos.

A study by the National Foundation for Educational Research, published last year, showed that there was no difference in the value-added GCSE scores of faith schools compared to non-religious neighbours.

Further statistics obtained by The TES this week show that in the past academic year, only 1 per cent of faith secondary schools visited by inspectors was deemed to be "highly effective" compared to 3 per cent of non-denominational secondaries.

A further 27 per cent of faith secondaries were said to be "very effective"

- grade two - only slightly higher than the 22 per cent of non-faith secondary schools winning the same praise. At primary level, faith and non-religious schools were closely matched. One per cent of faith schools were highly effective and 20 per cent were very effective, against 1 per cent and 17 per cent of secular schools.

Andrew Copson, education officer for the British Humanist Association, said: "In the past nine years, only 8 per cent of applications for new faith schools have been refused. In this rush to embrace a more divided education system, rational debate on the relative merits of community schools and religious schools has been totally sidelined.

"There remains no evidence that faith schools are a more effective learning environment than inclusive community schools."

The Church of England has been the biggest winner of new faith schools in recent years. Last summer The TES revealed how 45 secular schools in England have converted into Anglican voluntary-controlled or voluntary-aided schools since 2001. Church leaders said last year that plans for trust schools, as spelt out in the education white paper, could give them control of an estimated 200 more.

Canon John Hall, chief education officer for the Church of England, said:

"It is a mark of the support for faith schools that so many of these schools have been approved. None would have opened without very strong support from the local community."

Peter Walsh, policy and briefings manager for the Catholic Education Services said: "We are pleased the Government is confident in faith-based education and, like parents, acknowledge that many faith schools are doing an excellent job."

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

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