On Friday (23rd March) the Church of England called for church schools to robustly assert their Christian ethos and foundation. This came in a report which emphasised the role church schools play at the heart of the nation, educating over a million children.
The Church School of the Future clearly outlined threats to the integrity not just of church schools but of education at large. Principally, these threats are the changing educational landscape and increasing attacks from secularist groups.
The Church of England was the first national provider of education in England with a school set up in every parish with the intention of providing skills to the poor as well as moral instruction. Now, Church schools are often exemplary in their adherence to Ofsted requirements that all state schools provide collective worship and a degree of religious education.
Many claim that Church schoolspuch faith onchildren and should have no role in state education. But rather, an Anglican schools Christian ethos intends to provide a distinctive form or narrative for the kinds of values that all schools strive to teach their pupils. Church schools also try to make these values actively shape how the schools operate at staff, management and community dimensions.
As for provision of religious education, church schools nurture a reverence for truth and seek to encourage an attitude of enquiry and openness rather than pushing doctrine. Exploring Christianity and other religions is about encouraging children to contemplate morality and spirituality. The Diocese of Bristols Schools Adviser, Katy Staples, says:
Religiouseducation helps children understand faith and belief, and to explore their own meaning and purpose for life. Nurturing this element of a child provides an opportunity for them to be more fully educated. It also equips pupils with the religious literacy to understand the modern global context.
There is a danger, with the exclusion ofreligious educationfrom the new English Baccalaureate, thatit will become a marginalised subject. Tosafeguardits quality in Secondary schools subject specialists need to be employed."
The report also draws out the many challenges that have emerged since the Coalition governments academy conversion process has begun to be worked out in dioceses, saying that the change of many Church of England schools to academy status should in no way compromise or undermine their distinctive Christian character.
The Diocese of Bristols Partnership Adviser John Swainston works with schools involved in this process and feels that the report heralds further investigation at a national level into how this can be achieved. He comments:
There is an urgent need for the church to address standards alongside distinctiveness and so become a key player on the national education agenda.
In the report the Bishop of Oxford, who leads on education for the Church of England, said:
The entire educational landscape has shifted with many more types of school and different providers involved in a new market place. This is an opportunity and I would not be surprised to see at least 200 more Church schools developed in the next five years.
In Bristol, the Diocesan Board of Education is confidently at the forefront of finding new ways of working and Diocesan Director of Education Jackie Waters Dewhurst is keen to make the most of this opportunity, supporting each schools move forward ahead as each governing body feels appropriate to its context, and providing sponsorship where necessary.
The Diocese of Bristol Academies Company was founded earlier this year to look after the sponsored, independent or federated academies amongst DBEs 67 church schools.
Jackie says: It is exciting that the Church of England remains loyal to its historical purpose in education providing for communities, especially those in need. It is also encouraging that it is an organisation looking to the future. The report shows that the Church will continue to engage with new structures and processes in order to provide the very best pupils and families across the country.