Church to Oversee Secularist Schools in England; Critics React

An agreement between the Church of England and the country's Department of Education could put the Anglican Church in charge of thousands of secular state schools across Britain, sparking a fierce debate from observers in the country.

The deal was reportedly approved by British Education Secretary Michael Gove, who said in a statement that in the past, the Church of England has helped create many reputable schools due to its financing.

'We would not have so many great state schools in this country without the Church of England," Gove said in a statement during a seminar at Lambert Palace entitled "Church of England: Education and our Future."

''I know the Church does a wonderful job helping to raise educational standards and in providing a safe and loving environment for hundreds of thousands of children," Gove continued.

''However, there is much more we can do together. I want the Church to recover the spirit which infused its educational mission in Victorian times and support more new schools - especially academies and free schools - to bring educational excellence to the nation's poorest children," Gove added.

Additionally, the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, said at the seminar that the Christian vision for secular schools would enable children with the proper judgment when facing challenges in modern culture.

"It is obviously true that good schools help produce an educated workforce. But the Christian vision is a far greater one. It is about setting a framework for children as they learn, which enables them to be confident when faced with the vast challenges that our rapidly changing culture brings to us," Welby said, as reported by the Church of England website.

At the seminar last week, Gove and Welby agreed upon the document entitled "A Diocesan Board of Education for the Future," which highlights the possibility of the Church of England overseeing thousands of schools.

According to reports, the Church would have to respect the nonreligious nature of schools joining the Church of England academy. Additionally, schools joining the academy chain would not need to alter their employment terms for teachers, religious class curriculum or admissions policy.

Bishops of the Church of England would also be able to appoint governors to the schools to oversee academic performance. 

Multiple secularist groups in the country, along with non-Christians, are contesting the new plan, arguing that it will inevitably result in the increased religious influence on school children.

Executive Director of the National Secular Society Keith Porteous Wood said in a statement to The Times of London, as reported on the National Secular Society's website, that he believes this move will exclude nonreligious students and their families.

"This will surreptitiously bring the education system under religious control. It will lead to the further alienation of school children who are from non-religious or religiously unconcerned families. Despite now being the majority, they are becoming increasingly disadvantaged in admissions and by the growing religionisation of publicly-funded schools," Wood said. 

"Once schools have been taken over by religious interests, it will be almost impossible to ever bring them back under community control," Wood added.

Additionally, Jonathan Romain, a rabbi, wrote in a piece for The Huffington Post UK that he also believes it is a bad decision to allow the Church of England to oversee schools.

"Officially the schools would remain secular, but they would be run by church-led Academy chains, and it is impossible to imagine that the Church would not wish to influence them in accordance with its own outlook and practices," Romain wrote for The Huffington Post UK.

"It will be tragic if community schools that currently serve their local population without discrimination and see themselves as the hub of local life are transformed into ones that serve one particular faith group only and exclude others - be it those of different faiths or no-belief system," Romain continued.

"Let faith be celebrated in the home or in church or at Sunday school or at summer camp, but school should be the place where the whole of society comes together and interacts," Romain added.

Currently there are 4,484 primary and middle schools associated with the Church of England academy chain, as well as 193 secondary schools.