Ed Balls ‘has betrayed Church of England’ over schools
Frank Field MP wrote: ‘Ed Balls's recent attack on faith schools (was) not simply incomprehensible, but near criminal. The PM … must rein him in. A rant against faith schools may be good for positioning a candidate for the next leadership contest but it is deeply damaging to a government that is trying to prevent itself being confined to a political life-support machine.’
The allegation is that church and other faith schools use their admissions policies to exclude difficult and disadvantaged children. This constituted ‘shocking evidence’ of social selection, which suggested that ‘faith schools nationwide were asking parents for hundreds of pounds, weeding out poor or difficult children, and refusing to give places to children in local-authority care.’
As the Church Times points out: ‘Many schools have amenity funds, usually organised by parent-teacher associations. Contributions are never demanded in return for a place. The school cited by Mr Balls as seeking £800-plus a year from parents was a voluntary aided Jewish school that has been subjected to anti-Semitic attacks and threats and requires additional security. It is not a typical aided school.’
Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Jewish educationists complained that their schools had been unfairly traduced. Colin Hopkins, director of education for Lichfield diocese, said that the public had been given an ‘outrageously false impression of our schools’. But Mr Balls was having none of it, so he organised a press briefing and said he wanted ‘to draw a line’ under the dispute, and he did so by publishing a list of schools with their alleged failings, suggesting that they were 'a law unto themselves'.
The Board of Education, which had been advised that the statement was to be published, was not warned about the press briefing. The Rev. Jan Ainsworth has therefore questioned Mr Balls’ motives, observing: ‘The Secretary of State must have known his decision to go public in this way would result in hostile coverage. There is a real feeling of betrayal by the minister, and some anxiety about the direction of future relationships with his department.’
When one considers the inquisition faced by supporters of Roman Catholic schools, the slur against Jewish schools, and this gross misrepresentation of Church of England schools, it is difficult not to conclude that Labour is distinctly hostile to faith-based education.
Not only have Church of England schools consistently supported fair admissions policies, including the banning of interviews, but they continue to be the centuries-old embodiment of the mission to the poor, as the Dearing Report of 2001 stated. The Church of England has been a substantial provider of primary schools, of fewer secondary schools and of a significant number of teacher training colleges of which most remaining examples are now universities. The Dearing Report proposed the extension of secondary provision, which is well under way. However, there is little Church of England provision in post-16 and none at all in the Further Education sector. The Academies programme offers a new route for the entitlement of schools with a designated Church of England character. These are targeted towards areas of high deprivation in traditionally Labour constituencies.
But perhaps Mr Balls has simply not noticed that.