Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Education
17 March 2016

George Osborne just announced the biggest appropriation of Church land since the Reformation

Hey, it worked once!

By Jonn Elledge

Between 1536 and 1541, the government of Henry VIII systematically disbanded more than 600 monasteries, priories, convents and friaries. It sold off their assets. It appropriated their incomes.

From a modern perspective, it’s quite hard to get your head around quite what a big deal this actually was. It wasn’t just a matter of fighting corruption/breaking the Pope’s power over England/royal venality (delete to religious opinion and taste). It fundamentally changed the national landscape, wiping out institutions that had been at the heart of communities for 500 years or more. It was as if a modern adminstration announced, say, that there was to be no more local government – that all decisions from now on were to be taken at Westminster. Unimaginable.

Anyway. Yesterday George Osborne confirmed that the government had decided that every school in Britain would be an academy by 2022. How it plans to make this happen is not clear.

Tory ministers have consistently sold academisation as a matter of breaking the hold of local education authorities. But any hold that LEAs had was actually broken by Ken Baker’s 1988 education act. What academisation actually does is cut councils out of the picture entirely, and put schools on a tighter leash to the Department for Education.

And one of the things that’s prevented the completion of the academy revolution so far is that some schools don’t see their LEA as evil overlords at all. Instead, they view them a valuable store of support, particularly in technical areas (IT, educational psychology, etc) which they don’t have the money or demand to provide in-house.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly round-up of The New Statesman's climate, environment and sustainability content.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Which schools have held out against academisation? They’re disproportionately small (larger ones are more likely to be able to afford in house IT teams and so forth). They’re disproportionately likely to be primaries (secondaries are larger). And they’re disproportionately likely to be rated outstanding (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it).

And what type of schools are disproportionately likely to be small but outstanding primaries? Faith schools.

George Osborne just announced the biggest appropriation of Church land since the 1530s.

Now the state isn’t quite stealing that land. The land on which academies sit is generally leased to the new academy trusts on long term leases (125 years, for example). But that is basically compulsory: it’s not as if the councils which are losing their schools get any say over whether to sign those leases or not. And to quote some lawyers, from Browne Jacobson:

Where the diocese own the land, it is usual for the diocese to grant the academy trust a licence to use the land under the church supplemental agreement

So – the government isn’t stealing church land. It’s just forcing the church to use it in a certain way. Which is entirely different.

The man who launched the dissolution of the monasteries was Henry’s advisor Thomas Cromwell. In 1540, before the programme could be completed, Henry had him executed.

Best of luck in your leadership campaign, George.