Leicester Secular Society

THE OLDEST SECULAR SOCIETY IN THE WORLD - FOUNDED 1851

Academies

The following notes, mainly from Allan Hayes, detail some of the history of the campaigns for and against the building of Church of England and Islamic Academies in Leicester (and elsewhere) over the past few years. The notes are in reverse date order, most recent at the top. The creationism issue (fortunately not a problem in Leicester academies, but noted elsewhere) is dealt with in a separate section.
30th September 06

An example of the accumulation of influence and privilege that the CofE is so good at: "Two visits to church per month for school admission": Telegraph article.

7 September 06

I am delighted to say that Leicester council has just announced that we will not be having a second CofE academy (see 1. from the Leicester Mercury below). Just how much the campaigning has had to do with this is difficult to judge, but I suspect the insistent presentation of the case against: in the Mercury, written briefings to councillors, speaking in council committee meetings, emailing and phoning the council leader, pressure through party political connections, and in general conversation has gradually raised awareness.

This has not gone unnoticed: congratulatory emails have been received from Keith Porteous Wood (Executive Director of the National Secular Society), Andrew Copson (British Humanist Association, Education and Public Affairs) and David Pollock (President of the European Humanist Federation).

Lets hope that we can continue to influence education.

Allan Hayes

1. Leicester Mercury article copied below:

ACADEMY PLANS SCRAPPED
BY IAN WISHART, EDUCATION CORRESPONDENT
05 September 2006

Plans to turn New College into a city academy have been abandoned because of its improvement in results. The New Parks school will remain under the control of Leicester City Council, which is to look at alternative ways to fund a rebuilding programme. The plan for an academy - an independently run state school - was proposed when the school was in special measures and exam results were at rock bottom. However, the school has improved dramatically since executive principal David Kershaw arrived in November and it was taken out of special measures in April. Coun Hussein Suleman, Leicester City Council's education spokesman, put forward an expression of interest in June last year to create the academy, sponsored by millionaire businessman David Samworth and the Church of England. Today, he said the school's improvements meant he wanted to look at other avenues for investment within the council's control and an academy was no longer on the cards. He said: "We now have the chance to explore more options, and with more time to do that we have the chance to consult everyone with an interest in it. "The decision was made at a time when things were not looking good for the school, although a lot of people had reservations about the city academy idea even then. "At the time, the city academy was the only game in town. We had very little choice, but now the school has come out of special measures and we have a solid basis to build on." He said the option of considering an academy would be still available to them if deemed necessary in the future.

Coun Peter Coley, whose two youngest children went to the school, said he hoped it would now become part of the multi-million pound Building Schools for the Future programme. Coun Coley, a member of the schools executive board, said: "We will now get the extra cash to get buildings that are fit for purpose. Not being a city academy will ensure the school can have its own locally-appointed, accountable board of governors. It will still have the normal national curriculum, and, unlike some academies, there will not be a restrictive admissions policy."

New Parks ward councillor John Blackmore said it was excellent news that the school would not be passed over to a private sponsor. He said: "We always said there were other options, for instance through the city council, to develop a more robust and dynamic programme for the school. The confidence has been put back into the school and shows we should not write the kids of New Parks off. They are just as clever and talented given the right circumstances."

This year, 26 per cent of students achieved five good GCSE passes compared with nine per cent last year. Executive principal David Kershaw said: "I'm much more comfortable that the school will now remain part of the education scene in Leicester, and the way everybody has responded in Leicester to support us fills me with optimism. An academy is, legally, separate and we in no sense want to be separate from the community and instead of imposing something on people, we can now talk to them and not act in isolation."

Church of England Academies

date missing

On Thought for the Day sometime last week the Bishop of Liverpool told us how lucky folks in Liverpool were to be getting a spanking new school mainly constructed from and wholy run on public funds for which half of their children need not be religious. Here are the details:

Admission: In the case of over-subscription: After cared for, SEN, medical and socially needy children, not less 50% of the remaining places will be allocated to baptised Catholic Children. The Catholic Church drove a hard bargain.

Governing body:

Just who is running the show, and for whose benefit?

Source: DFES and from Companies House (you have to pay for the latter).

Allan Hayes

14 July 2004

GIVE PEOPLE CHOICE
Letter by Allan Hayes in Leicester Mercury, 14 July 2004

A few weeks ago, the city education scrutiny committee asked the cabinet to defer a decision on the Church of England Academy proposal until the support of the community has been clearly established.

The cabinet noted this and agreed to make a final decision taking into account the result of the sponsor's community consultation.

Assurance was given that the consultation would be independent and it was expected that it would give people a real choice.

Instead, we have a pamphlet and a questionnaire (on the website at http://www.yourlocalacademy.co.uk) that are little better than manipulative advertising.

Just what answers are expected to questions like the following?

"We believe that the people of the Eyres Monsell and Saffron districts deserve to have a high-quality educational facility in the very heart of the community. What do you think?"

Important issues concerning alternative provisions, a possible non-church school, adequate representation of community and council on the governing body and so on don't get a look in.

True, it is now admitted that the church is contributing 250,000 from diocesan funds towards the 16 million set-up cost, rather than the 10 per cent, 1.6 million, that Bishop Stevens asserted two months ago (all costs after set-up come out of taxes).

But how can we be sure of the future of the proposed school when he tells us now that the diocese "would not be involved in a project which did not give equal access to all", whereas, only two months ago, he was writing defending selection on religious grounds in city schools?

This is not the way to treat people. It is not good enough.

13 May 2004

‘First Person Column’ by Bishop of Leicester In Leicester Mercury, 13 May 2004

CITY ACADEMY WILL BE FORCE FOR GOOD RELATIONS

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, rebuts claims that the City Academy will be divisive

On Tuesday, this column provided a second opportunity for the humanist, Allan Hayes, to attack faith schools and particularly the proposed City Academy. He claims the Church is leading us away from integration and undermining community cohesion in Leicester.

His article contained a number of misleading points. Firstly, the Church of England is asked to contribute 10 per cent (not 1 in 80) of the total cost of the academy. This is a major strain on diocesan resources, but it is one we are prepared to try to meet in order to make our contribution to the great challenge of raising the standards of education in our city.

Secondly, Mr Hayes claims local children and their families will be evangelised whether they like it or not. This is a serious misunderstanding of the "Christian ethos" of a school. The ethos is about the way that the school treats people. It is about creating trust and it is about forgiveness, reconciliation and openness to people of all faiths and none. For this reason, the City Academy will be an entirely non-discriminating school, with admissions available, without distinction, to all the children from the catchment area.

Thirdly, the school will not become the property of the Church of England. The Church of England is to be a joint sponsor of the school in partnership with Mr David Samworth, a leading local industrialist. It will seek to provide high-quality education with the best educational values, open to all children in the neighbourhood. Mr Hayes criticises St Mary's School, in Hamilton, and St John's, in Clarendon Park, for an admissions policy which reserves some places for the children of Church members. Yet, the parents of children of other faiths are very keen to send their children to these schools.

The Times Educational Supplement, after the riots in northern cities two years ago, reported that pupils from faith schools were not involved in the community tensions precisely because of the respect for differences which they had learned.

Mr Hayes criticises the Church for last year's "inadequate consultations". Last year's consultations about the City Academy was a fact-finding exercise giving the Church an opportunity to meet parents and community members to talk about their concerns.

Further consultations are now planned. It will, in the end, be the views and the wishes of parents which the school seeks to meet, parents who on the whole do not share Mr Hayes's aggressive, secular stance.

The logical outcome of this kind of secularism is to be seen in contemporary France, where Muslims are no longer allowed to wear the hijab and where public signs of faith adherence are outlawed. Is this what we want for the City of Leicester?

Is it to be a city from which faith is excluded? Would it be a more peaceful city, a more coherent city, a more lively city if the churches, mosques, temples and faith schools were all removed from the landscape?

Mr Hayes and many other humanists and secularists are entitled to their views, but they are not entitled to claim that faith in this city has undermined social cohesion. Wherever you look, the evidence points in the opposite direction.

11 May 2004

‘First Person Column’ by Allan Hayes in Leicester Mercury 11 May 2004

THE CHURCH IS LEADING US AWAY FROM INTEGRATION

Humanist Allan Hayes is worried the Church of England's role in a city academy is undermining community cohesion in Leicester

Consultations are taking place about a proposed City Academy for the Saffron Lane and Eyres Monsell area. Investment in education for this area would be very welcome, but should the school be given to the Church of England?

I think not, but let's look at this issue.

For contributing just 1 in each 80 of the set-up cost, the Church is expecting to get a school that will, after set-up, be entirely paid for out of taxes.

The staff would be selected to support the Church's religious "ethos", and local children and their families would, like it or not, be evangelised.

The strategy was emphasised last May by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who urged Church schools to have a "core of Eucharistic worship" which can prove a "powerful form of evangelism for half-committed or uncommitted families".

This reinforced the recommendations of the Dearing report of 2001 about using schools to spread the faith and make up for small congregations.

This is not a proper use of public money.

Moreover, although the Church may be more inclusive in order to evangelise, when necessary, it is quite prepared to be exclusive when it can be, as witness the reserving of one-third of the places at the new St Mary's School, in North Hamilton, for church-going families; the admissions policy of St John's School Clarendon Park; and the recent change of status of St Peter's School, Belgrave, to voluntary-aided.

There can be no cast-iron guarantee that it would not in the future try to introduce selection in the academy.

The implications for social cohesion are serious.

If the Church gets the City Academy, it will be the third time in two years that it has got what it wants. This will be a clear provocation to other religious groups to demand the same treatment and a good argument for them getting it.

We would be moving towards a city where children are divided by diversity rather than enriched by it.

Change could come quickly, not just through new schools, but also through conversion of existing community schools and private schools.

The Church seems to hold all the cards. It ran last year's quite inadequate informal consultations, which it represented to Government as "encouraging"; it is running this year's formal consultations; it has representatives on all local government committees dealing with educational matters; and it has historical presence and privilege. However, it can and must be opposed on this issue.

We need to recognise that the Church, like any other institution, will pursue its own interests. In the 19th century, it helped block the development of a state-school system suited to a modern industrial society. The bad effects of that are still with us. We should not now let it lead us away from a school system for living together in our present diverse society.

The Church's consultations will last a further six months or so and the proposals will then go to council, but the debate should start now and in public.

5 July 2003

Statement from the Office of the Bishop of Leicester

Leicester Secular Society held a morning Conference on 5th July 2003 concerning the proposals for the two new "faith schools". Speakers included Allan Hayes (BHA), Dr Mukadam (Islamic Academy) and Ross Willmott (Labour Councillor and former Council Leader). No speaker on behalf of the Leicester diocese of the Church of England was able to attend, but Peter D. Taylor their Director of Education, e-mailed: "... the Bishop asked if you would be kind enough to make available the attached statement by having it read out and or available in printed form." Accordingly we exhibited it as a poster in the hall and in our window display.

The Church of England has a strong track record in delivering high quality education in partnership with national and local government, Consequently in partnership with a consortium of local business under the leadership of John Bennett of Advantica we are offering to sponsor a new Academy in the City of Leicester.

The Sponsors would be seeking to provide the best possible teaching and learning strategies along with a broad and balanced curriculum. The Government's current initiatives in wanting to develop vocational and technical opportunities for young people, present the academy with an opportunity to be at the forefront of such provision, creating an innovative curriculum to meet the diverse learning needs, life chances and ambitions of the of the local community.

Nationally and locally the church is committed to the principles laid down in Lord Dearing's report the "Way Ahead" whereby its schools must be inclusive and yet distinctive in their service to the community. Church school admissions policies are therefore inclusive. The Admissions Policy presented in the consultation papers for the new VA Primary School recently approved by the School Organisation Committee, highlighted the commitment of the Diocese to serving the local community with the majority of places being reserved for those who live within the catchment area. The admissions policy of a Church Academy would be equally focused on the local community and catchment. The Bishop of Leicester has repeatedly maintained that the Academy is being promoted to serve the local community, he is on public record affirming that commitment and has stated that if the Academy does not serve the needs of the local community then the Church of England will not support the proposal.,

The Diocese and LEA already work in close partnership as identified in the LEA's OfSTED report. We have a proven track record of partnership and collaboration. A church/business sponsored Academy would need to work within the City's secondary transfer criteria to contribute to a cohesive education provision for the young people of the city. The recently published DfES guidelines on School Admissions require Academies to consult with and be part of the LEA's statutory co-ordinated admissions process, in addition once an admissions policy is agreed for an Academy it can not be changed without the specific authority of the Secretary of State for Education.

Although an Academy is technically not an LEA school, the sponsoring Partnership of Church and Business, in accordance with Government Guidelines which expect Academies to share expertise, would be insistent that the Academy participated fully in the networked learning opportunities within the City. As prospective sponsors we are aware of the tremendous development that has taken place in our city secondary schools and would want an Academy to be part of that robust, challenging community; serving the best interest of the young people of Leicester. It is only through partnership and cooperation that good practice can be disseminated; new initiatives explored and mutual learning take place.

Government guidelines for Academies identify Governing Bodies as having members from the following constituencies:- the sponsoring body, the local community, the LEA, the staff, and the parents. The Diocese, in partnership with the Local Business Consortium, would be committed to this principle and believes that the community need to have a significant stake in the project, both at the planning stage and in the governing structure in order to ensure its success.

In addition the Diocese has repeatedly stated its commitment to recognising Trade Unions and Professional Associations and has also stated publicly its commitment to working within the Teachers Pay and Conditions legislation.

1 July 2003

‘First Person Column’ by Allan Hayes in the Leicester Mercury of July 1 2003. The following is the text that was printed.

FAITH SCHOOLS A BACKWARD STEP FOR EDUCATION


I have lived in Leicester since 1965. Over this period Leicester has seen the arrival of people from a great variety of backgrounds. They have enriched the city culturally and contributed to its well-being. We have learned to live together. Leicester is now an example to others. However, I am concerned that instead of making the most of this success we may be putting it at risk. The council is considering proposals for two faith schools: A voluntary aided Islamic Academy and a Church of England city academy. These would in themselves be divisive, but they would also point the way to more religious schools and a segregated school system.

Between the ages of three and eighteen many children would have little contact with those of other beliefs. This is not the way to help children benefit from our cultural diversity and prepare them for tomorrow's society. It is certainly not the way to nurture understanding and trust between children from different communities and between their families.

There are other ills to consider: Disputes over funding, an inflexible system of independently-run schools with segregated neighbourhoods around them, religious tests for student entry and staff recruitment, "cherry picking" of bright students. Let's be clear about what is being asked for: the proposers would get 90% of school building costs and 100% of running costs all paid out of taxes. They would control the religious ethos of the schools and have a majority on the governing bodies. As recently as May 13, the Commons' select committee on education and skills said: "Tensions in Northern Ireland between the two communities illustrate the problems that segregated schools can exacerbate". Similar concerns are voiced in reports commissioned by the council. I would rather look at the opportunities we have to build on success. Instead of being divided by schools we can use them to bring us together.

It is clear that the council has its doubts - it has changed its mind several times. It should look beyond these two schools and their proposers to establish a long term strategy, not just of social cohesion but of active co-operation. However, all groups in the city must be involved. Two groups should be brought in - teenagers currently or recently in our schools, and the considerable number of students who do not subscribe to any religion. It is important that we provide the latter with a basis to which they can relate, and here is where humanism can help. The British Humanist Association (www.humanism.org.uk) is consulted by government and international bodies, is represented on the Leicestershire Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education, and would welcome an opportunity to contribute to the good work being done by the Leicester Council of Faiths.

The column concluded with a notice of the meeting at Secular Hall mentioned above.

2003 Alert: Two New Faith Schools Proposed for Leicester

by Allan Hayes [from LSS Newsletter, issue 4, (2003)]

Leicester City Council is considering proposals for an Islamic Academy and a Church of England City Academy. These schools would be divisive and would limit the experience of children. If they are approved more such will surely follow, with serious consequences for community relations. I hope that we will actively oppose them by, for example, writing to the Mercury, to the Council Leader and to our councillors. The Islamic Academy would accept no more than 25% non-Muslims (and these under conditions); the Church of England City Academy is described as ‘inclusive’ but with a ‘Christian ethos’ – if the Dearing report is anything to go by, it would certainly be used to try to gain converts. All the running costs and 90% of the set-up costs would come from public funds. The governing bodies would have a majority of faith representatives and would have substantial independence in acceptance of students and employment of teachers.

References: (1) Leicester Mercury: (type "City Academy" or "Islamic Academy" in the Search Box, top right, click arrow). (2) Leicester City Council: Minutes, agendas and documents (click 'Meetings' in the top bar then 'Meetings' in the side bar of result. (3) Dearing Report The Way Ahead: see Education page for extract and link to full text.