CONCERNS have been raised about a possible religious takeover at nine Tynedale schools as plans for a giant multi-academy trust (MAT) take shape.

In May, 10 Tynedale first, middle and high schools announced proposals to join forces to create the Tynedale Community Learning Trust.

The mixed MAT would comprise nine community schools: Prudhoe Community High School, Highfield Middle School, Ovingham Middle School, Corbridge Middle School, Mickley First School, Wylam First School, Prudhoe Castle First School and Whittonstall and Broomley First Schools.

A voluntary aided Church of England First School, Ovingham First School, will also be brought into the trust.

But the National Secular Society has raised concerns about the church’s role in appointing members and directors of the MAT.

Tynedale Community Learning Trust will be run by five members with the power to appoint directors.

The 11 directors appointed will form a board with responsibility for the MAT and schools. One will be a ‘church’ director.

The 10 schools are currently proposing an option in which two of the five members will be appointed by the church and one will be jointly approved by the schools and the church.

Each member is required to sign an agreement confirming that their appointment of directors will be made on the basis of skills.

However, the National Secular Society campaigns officer Alastair Lichten said: “If trustees are to be appointed on the basis of their skills, rather than their faith – as all trustees of state schools should be – then what possible justification is there for the church appointing three out of the five people who will decide on these appointments?

“It’s the simple point of principle – you shouldn’t have religious organisations running non-religious schools.”

The Newcastle Diocesan Education Board defended the proposed structure.

A spokeswoman said: “We would not seek to impose any solution or condition on a group of schools; the current favoured option is the one the group of schools has chosen to pursue.

“There will be no change to admissions arrangements, collective worship, recruitment of staff or RE provision across any of the schools in the trust as a result of the proposed MAT structure, and the land currently occupied by the community schools will be leased to the trust and will not transfer to the diocese.”

Chairman of governors at Prudhoe Community High School Rob Moore added: “At face value it might seem like a church takeover, but it’s not.

“The arrangement planned is one which will safeguard the interests of the church school and the non-church schools.

“The other advantage of this model is that if in the future another voluntary aided CoE school wants to join the trust, it will be able to."

Consultation drop-in sessions are to be held at the ten schools over the coming weeks, for dates and times visit the schools' websites.