Blunkett backs 100 new church schools

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The Independent Online

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, has backed a massive expansion of Church of England schools. Two new Anglican secondaries will open in Bradford next month, the first step in a drive to create 100 new schools in towns and cities across the country.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, has backed a massive expansion of Church of England schools. Two new Anglican secondaries will open in Bradford next month, the first step in a drive to create 100 new schools in towns and cities across the country.

With Catholic and Anglican schools consistently outstripping their council-owned counterparts at GCSE, the Government believes the Church could play a leading role in pushing up education standards in inner cities.

The Church of England is due to open more new secondary schools in Bromley, Sunderland and Stockton. Plans are well advanced for yet another school in Nottingham and it is understood that it is preparing to help ministers to revive a failing London school under the new "City Academy" initiative.

Sources close to Mr Blunkett said last night that he would "look favourably" on the Church's applications for new schools when there is evidence that parents want a church education for their children.

Historically, councils that are Labour-controlled have been hostile to church schools. And Graham Lane, education chairman of the Local Government Association, warned yesterday that a major expansion of church schools could lead to sectarian rivalries.

"It's a very sensitive issue. If you allow a large number of extra Anglican schools you could end up with demands for religious schools of all faiths - which is not the way to run a multi-cultural society. The lesson from Northern Ireland shows it's not the way to go."

There is not likely to be any shortage of parental demand. Anglican schools have proved highly popular as, according to Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, they are not only academically successful, but also boast a good "ethos" and well-behaved pupils.

Both Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Secretary of State for Education have spoken warmly of the contribution made by church schools, with Mr Blunkett saying he wished to "bottle" the secret of their success.

"Where there's a clear demand for a new church school, then we will look favourably on it," said a Government source.

An official Church enquiry headed by the former government education adviser, Lord Dearing, has already concluded that there should be at least two new secondary schools in each of the 44 diocese, with still more built in areas of particular shortage.

The Church of England says it has been driven to expand by an acute shortage of school places for older pupils.

While a quarter of all English primary schools are Anglican, the Church owns only one in 20 secondaries. There are 790,000 primary school places but only 150,000 for older pupils and, according to Lord Dearing's interim report, there is "evidence of widespread, unsatisfied demand". In seven diocese there is no church secondary school at all.

The Church pays only 15 per cent of the cost of new school buildings, and then 15 per cent of their annual running costs.

Even so, the bill is high. In Bradford, the diocese has committed itself to spending £10m on the new Immanuel Community College in the north of the city, and on refurbishing the troubled Bowling College, which will in future be renamed Bradford Cathedral Community College. Both schools will open their doors at the start of the new term.

Canon John Hall, the general secretary of the Church's Board of Education, said: "Church schools are seen to be successful and popular with parents and the young people in them.

"We have a startling disparity between secondary and primary provision, which means that a large number of young people are being turned away from secondary education."

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