It is time that the Church of England faced up to the widespread public concern surrounding church schools and stopped trying to pretend that fear about Church schools comes only from a vociferous anti-religious minority.
This is the message from the religious thinktank Ekklesia, following the release of survey results today (Monday) by the Church of England on attitudes to faith schools.
In a press release accompanying the survey results, the Church claimed church schools were "Getting top marks: People of all faiths and none back church schools' popularity".
However an examination of the figures in the survey revealed that of those who felt Church Schools were different to Local Authority run schools:
- 51% felt that the sex education church schools provided was 'incomplete or restricted'
- 47% said they felt that church schools discouraged open discussion of important social and political topics
- 35% said they believed that church schools tried to force their own opinions on children rather than giving a balanced view of other religions or ideas.
- 35% said that children in Church of England schools were "exposed to narrow religious teaching".
- 45% said that the rules on admitting pupils to Church of England schools mean that children from better off backgrounds are more likely to get in.
- 43% said they believed the schools created divisions between different sections of society.
Speaking about the results of the new survey Ekklesia's co-director Jonathan Bartley, who has written a book and a new research paper on the relationship between the churches and Government said: "It is time for the Church of England to face the facts about how the majority of people - both religious and non- religious - see faith schools. There is clearly widespread concern about the discriminatory admission's procedures employed by church schools, what children are being taught and the social division that church schools may be causing.
"As the Church's own survey makes abundantly clear, and as opinion research keeps confirming, these are concerns held by a significant proportion of the population. The Church should stop trying to spin the figures. It is time for a constructive debate about the place of church schools and the place of religion in education more generally. Simply denying that there is a problem or trying to dismiss criticism as a purely minority concern, prevents such conversations from happening. As things stand, the public resentment, fear and distrust of faith schools will only continue to grow."
The Church of England plans to open another 100 church secondary schools by 2011, mainly through the academies programme.
The survey results published today by the Church of England can be found here: http://www.cofe.anglican.org/info/statistics/orb2007churchschools.pdf 
Getting top marks: People of all faiths and none back church schools' popularity  - Church of England Press Release
People of all faiths and none back church schools  - Christian Today
Church schools win widespread support  -Religious Intelligence
Poll forces Church to re-examine way it teaches religion in schools  - The Times (quotes Ekklesia)