This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Too many schools in church hands?
In a recent letter I made some remarks about the Church of England which Archdeacon David Newman (Mailbox, February 13) says were misleading.
But, before replying to this, I would like to take up his statement that "there is no such thing as a 'neutral' school in terms of ethos".What does he mean by "ethos" and by "neutral"? Do community schools have an ethos? We are diverse in beliefs but one in humanity.
It seems to me that the appropriate ethos for our schools would be one that starts from people and our common humanity; one that, through respect for people, respects their religions and beliefs and welcomes the contributions that they can make – a school ethos that brings children together.
What is his position on this?
Now, back to those remarks about the Church of England. I accept that most Church of England schools do not select pupils by religion. But the Church insists on its schools having the power to do this, and its Dearing report recommends having a "substantial core" of Christian pupils and teachers.
I accept that most Church schools do not directly seek to convert children.
But what should we make of those Dearing recommendations along the lines: tie the parish church, clergy and school as close together as possible; have a meaningful act of Christian worship every day; proclaim the school as CofE by external notice board, by displays of symbols inside and outside the school (the Samworth Academy includes a new parish church).
The Church of England is using state-funded schools to proclaim its own religion, not infrequently to children for whom its school is the only convenient one.
On expansion plans: last year the Bishop of Oxford, chair of the Church's National Board of Education, said that the past decade has seen "the most significant expansion of places" in the past 200 years; and the Archbishop of Canterbury remarked last September on the prospect of the Church becoming the largest "provider" of secondary education and with post offices, libraries, citizens advice centres in its schools.
David Newman himself tells us that the Church sees itself providing services to non-church schools. This expansion is from a base of one quarter of all state schools in 2001.
Is this not too great a concentration in the hands of one body?
Allan Hayes, Leicester