Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has defended faith schools, saying they provide education for some of the poorest children in the UK.
Archbishop Welby acknowledged the potential danger of fundamentalists attempting to take control of schools.
However, in a BBC interview he said Church of England schools continued to “love and serve”, as they “have done for hundreds of years”.
The archbishop repeated his view that the UK is “a deeply Christian country”.
Asked about an inquiry into allegations of fundamentalists targeting schools – the so-called Trojan Horse plot – he said: “I can’t talk about other faith schools, but it isn’t much of a danger in Church of England schools.”
He was speaking after Birmingham City Council launched an inquiry into alleged plots by Muslim hard-liners to seize control of school governing bodies in the city.
The archbishop also defended the role of faith schools within the education system, saying they remained “a very good use of social capital”.
“The way it’s done with Church of England schools is that it’s an expression of our love and service to the community,” he said.
“People seem to choose these schools in large numbers. They are often in the poorest parts of the country, we seek to love and serve people, as we should, through these schools – and have done for hundreds of years.”
National Secular Society executive director Keith Porteous Wood said: “He [the archbishop] fails to point out that his schools, run entirely at public expense, prioritise evangelisation over serving the population who are steadily abandoning his pews.”
A spokeswoman for the Church replied that it had first set up schools 200 years ago, some 50 years before the state introduced education for all.
She added: “The Church contributes financially to the running of their schools through improvement costs, along with many hours of volunteering, particularly on governing bodies.
“Church schools do not evangelise but provide an inclusive and effective education with a distinctive Christian ethos which continues to be very popular with parents and pupils of all faiths and none.”
Faith schools are run like other state schools but are associated with a particular religion. They follow the national curriculum except for religious studies where they are free to only teach about their own faith.
There are about 7,500 faith schools across the UK, the largest category of which are Church of England followed by Roman Catholic, according to the Department for Education.
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