Report from the Bishop of Oxford says supply side changes requires action to protect church provision
There are 4,745 Church of England schools, 225 secondary and the rest primary, with a total of one million children being educated within them.
They have if anything grown in popularity since 2001 with endorsement from subsequent government spokesmen on their valued place within the system. At the same time hostility towards faith based schools has increased with high profile challenges made to admissions on the basis of faith, appointments of staff and control over religious education. This is due in part to more aggressive forms of atheism and secularism evidenced in public discourse. Church schools generally outperform non-faith schools. Some claim though that Church schools relative success is due to selection and that faith schools do not take their share of the most disadvantaged pupils. Others claim that the very existence of faith based schools widens social divisions and hampers community cohesion. Indeed reports following the Bradford Riots as well as commentaries on sectarianism in Northern Ireland have suggested that faith schools may, in certain particular contexts at least, serve to exacerbate rather than heal divisions within communities.
Now the Coalition Government is aggressively pursuing supply side reforms the Church appears still to be making up its mind as to whether this represents a threat or an opportunity for their schools. It is against this backdrop that The Rt Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford and Chair of the National Society Council and Board of Education has issued a report somewhat ambitiously called ‘Education and the Church: into the next 200 years’
The Bishop says in his report that “The changes brought in by the present Coalition government present significant challenges to the church’s continued involvement in the public education system. The changed rationale and growth of academies requires action now to ensure the survival of our provision. That provision will be affected by how and to whom the commitment to being ‘distinctive and inclusive’ is understood, as embodied in revised Advice on ,admissions to church schools. The exclusion of Religious Education from the English Baccalaureate brings into focus the overall health of the subject and the potential for the Church of England to make a major contribution on behalf of all schools.” The Bishop notes that ‘ While many educationalists in the Church welcome supply side reforms others see a danger that church schools that became academies could in the not too distant future let the church foundation drift until it had no meaning. That has been to some extent averted by the church school specific documentation. As system change becomes a reality (though taking place at different rates in different parts of the country) the Church of England infrastructure may look very attractive to schools cast onto their own resources, or prey to commercial providers, building on the schemes of affiliation already in existence in some dioceses. The key challenges being addressed by the National Society and the Board are, in the immediate term, supporting individual dioceses as more of their schools become academies. In the longer term as resourcing and supporting all church schools falls to DBEs, how can they be enabled to gear up to provide the resources formerly the province of the Local Authority, including school improvement? The National Society and Board of Education, ‘recognising the extent and depth of the changes facing the church school system today, believe that there is a need for an external review of the current situation to articulate and authenticate the direction of travel’ The aim is to complete the review by the end of this year, given the pace of change.