Church schools want ballots, too

The Government is in danger of looking both anti-democratic and ignorant, says Judith Judd

Share
Related Topics
How did the Prime Minister ever come to be saddled with the notion that church schools should be allowed to become grant maintained without a parental ballot? Perhaps it was through some misguided notion that the Church of England is still the Tory party at prayer and that church school governors are all nice white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who would leap at the chance of backing one of the Conservatives' favourite policies.

The reality is different. Ever since the Thatcher government came to power 16 years ago, there have been differences between the Church of England and the Conservatives about everything from the Falklands war to what children should be taught about God. So far the Anglican church, which has most of the country's church schools, has remained officially neutral, arguing that parents should be left to decide their own fate.

Behind the scenes, however, bishops and church officials take a less sanguine view. Rab Butler's 1944 Education Act, which established the present arrangements for church schools, has served them well. They have more independence than county schools because they control their own admissions. They have a majority of church-appointed governors on the governing body. Their running costs are paid by the state and they contribute just 15 per cent of the costs of external maintenance and building. What is to be gained by opting out?

Greater independence, the Prime Minister suggested, revealing his ignorance about church schools. They are mostly primary schools, many of them small, that rely on both the dioceses and, in some places, the local authority to help them out in times of trouble. They are not straining at the leash to be free from outside control and they often have close connections with their communities and neighbouring schools.

Or maybe John Major thought that cash-strapped churches would like to be free of that 15 per cent contribution, at a cost to the Treasury of upwards of pounds 10m. Not so. Unlike politicians, the churches take a long view and see opting out as a threat to church schools' independence. Once a school opts out, the church ceases to pay its 15 per cent contribution. All the capital comes from the Government. It is not fanciful to suppose that a future government might argue that a church which had no financial commitment to its schools had no right to the privileges of control it now enjoys.

Even if the Prime Minister and his advisers can be forgiven for failing to understand the workings of the churches' minds, their difficulty in grasping the effect of his proposal to abolish parental ballots is bewildering. Why deny to church school parents the rights enjoyed by the parents of every other child? They instantly become second-class citizens who can be told what to do by their governors. Another option in the Government's consultation paper is even worse: it suggests that all church schools would be assumed to have opted out unless they voted to stay with the local authority. In other words, ministers would decide what was best for schools that have long prided themselves on their independence.

It is anti-democratic and it is a reflection of the muddle ministers are in over their whole opting-out policy. When Margaret Thatcher first proposed opting out, she suggested that schools would be falling over themselves to opt out and that the policy would be as popular as council house sales. Instead, persuading schools to opt out has proved an uphill struggle. The result is a mess which the Government calls "diversity" and a debate in the Conservative Party about where to go next. The party is split over whether to abandon ballots and the slogan of parental choice, which is the keystone of its education policy, and compel all secondary schools to opt out.

The fury unleashed by the church schools' proposals suggests that whatever policy it chooses will be unpopular. If ministers had said in 1988, when opting out was introduced, that they would fund all secondary schools from the centre, they might have won some support at a time when local authorities were more unpopular than they are today. Now a decision to take away votes from parents will be seen for what it is: a resort to force where persuasion has failed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

Upper KS2 Teacher

£120 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Upper Key Stage 2 teacher ...

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + ?110 - 130: Randstad Education Reading: English Teacher ...

KS2 Teacher with SEN responsibilities

£115 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: KS2 teacher with SEN responsibi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Young Syrian refugees gather around a small fire at the Minieh camp in Lebanon  

Cameron and Obama may want to ‘destroy’ Isis, but what will they do about the growing number of refugees fleeing Iraq and Syria?

Kate Allen
“You're running away!” Nick said to me the other night as I tried to leave the hospital  

In Sickness and in Health: ‘There’s nothing I want more than to have you at home, but you’re not well’

Rebecca Armstrong
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments