Schools to boost ‘spiritual and numerical growth’

Geoff Crawford

"The responsibility is ours": the Bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard, who chairs the Board of Education and the National Society

"The responsibility is ours": the Bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard, who chairs the Board of Education and the National Society

CHURCH OF ENGLAND schools perform on average, better in OFSTED ratings than their community-school equivalents, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, who chairs the Board of Education, said in a speech introducing a debate on the Board's report The Church School of the Future.

"Eighty-one per cent of C of E primary schools and 76 per cent of our secondary schools are rated 'good' or 'outstanding' by OFSTED - above the average for non-C of E schools by three per cent and four per cent."

But he warned that in "the new policy landscape of education . . . with a reduced role for local authorities, the responsibility for school effectiveness is shifting to those who provide schools - that's us. . . If a school has 'Church of England' over the door, then the Church of England, through the Diocesan Board of Education (DBE), will be increasingly held accountable for the quality of provision within the school."

He said that central to C of E schools' support for children "is to support them as they develop spiritually as well as academically and emotionally. In order to do that, it's vitally important that they're equipped to be able to engage with religious faith and practice."

The Revd Mark Steadman (Southwark) said that church schools were "an integral part of the mission and ministry of the diocese". They "work in areas of incredible diversity of social background, ethnicity, opportunity, and attainment". They were "places of community that seek to support and nurture some of the most vulnerable children in society". In Southwark, the Bishop had issued a call to mission not just to parishes, but to schools, and the effect had been "amazing".

Susan Witts (Blackburn) said that some of the clergy had told her that training for work in schools had not been adequate. She said: "Families are seeking community, and it's what we do well in church. . . We need to meet needs of families better." In the diocese, there were nine high-school chaplains; and the first primary-school chaplain would be appointed in January, and there were many child-friendly churches. Her "little concern" was about where "informal education work" with chaplains and volunteers would sit within the changes made at a national level.

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The Revd Dr Roger Walton (Methodist Church) welcomed the report, but was "a little disappointed that there is no mention of the growing ecumenical partnerships". In recent years, the Methodist Church had indicated a desire to be involved in sponsorship of schools, and to "enter into this not in competition, but in partnership". Such ecumenism was increasingly represented on diocesan boards.

The Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, called for more RE teachers to be professing Christians. He said: "How have we got to the place where the state of RE teaching is so depressing? . . I believe that key to ensuring good RE is a praying, Christian teacher." He noted that nine in ten schools in Blackburn had a full-time Christian youth-worker. "Part of our strategy must be to support those with a vocation for teaching, and to encourage Christians to consider the calling to teach."

Rachel Beck (Lincoln) praised the Board of Education's document A DBE for the Future, and encouraged all diocesan boards to use it for self-evaluation. "This document is an extremely useful tool. . . It led to clear and constructive feedback for the future development of our DBE." She highlighted the first "mark": "There is a clear and compelling statement of why the diocese is involved in education that any person in the structure can understand and recite." The document's evaluation framework offered a "clear path . . . to recommit to the vision behind its involvement in education. It's not just another tick box, or filling-in-forms process."

The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, moved an amendment, calling for a strengthening of the links between parishes and church schools. The original motion "doesn't give us a great deal of help about how we can use the opportunities that church schools provide more effectively for the mission of the Church, and in particular the contribution that our church schools can make to spiritual and numerical growth". The motion "omits parishes from doing anything, and it seems to me that this is the key place that difference is likely to be made".

When he visits church schools, he said that he asks for a 20-minute appointment with the head teacher, chair of governors, and the local vicar to ask how we can work better together. "Quite often, the head or vicar have ideas, but have never taken the opportunity to discuss it."

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The Bishop of Oxford said that he was "very happy to accept . . . the helpful addition".

The Chairman of the House of Laity, Dr Philip Giddings (Oxford), said that he was fully in support of the Bishop of St Albans's amendment, but said it was "unhelpful" that the word "church" had been included. "The strength of the main motion is that we should work with church schools and community schools," he said. "This is especially essential in the secondary sector, where we have so few church schools."

The same point was made by the Revd Stephen Pratt (Lichfield), who said that none of the six schools in his parish was a church school, but "we are in all but one of them in a major way." One of the schools was on the forced-academy list, and was being converted to a cooperative. It had been suggested that the church - not the diocese, but the local church - should become part of the Trust. He said that under the new school structures, "the lines are going to get blurred" about whether places were church schools.

Peter Bruinvels (Guildford) spoke of ways in which churches and schools could support each other; and said that the diocese of Guildford had ten non-church schools now affiliated to it.

The amendment was carried overwhelmingly.

Mary Durlacher (Chelmsford) said that full clergy engagement in schools was "time-consuming". She was "heartened by the suggestion that we need schools teams to help and the involvement of the church community". As a foundation governor, she wanted to say that these, too, required training. She also warned that Christian children were "at the sharp end". Every child in her Sunday school had told her that he or she had been bullied for being a Christian.

The Bishop of Warrington, the Rt Revd Richard Blackburn (Northern Suffragans), warned that many clergy were having to service an increasing number of schools: "Our engagement needs to go further." He welcomed the recommendations for developing church schools' partnerships. The reduced capacity of many local authorities meant that "our increasing involvement through direct action or as broker is now expected". He warned that resourcing education teams would come at a cost; this would be a challenge in existing pay structures, but the Church must "rise to the challenge".

The Revd Dr Joanna Spreadbury (St Albans) spoke as a parish priest working with a local school. It had been realised that it would be beneficial for both if it became a church school. This had been "relatively straightforward": the process was "surprisingly easy".

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Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) highlighted the need to train lay and ordained people for "intentional evangelism in the school setting", and to "fulfil the aspiration in Going for Growth that every child should have the opportunity of a life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ".

Canon Richard Mitchell (Gloucester) told the Synod that education was changing at great speed, and the Church needed to keep up. His diocese had had to delve into its reserves to set up its academy trust, but he said that he hoped, in time, the trust would be able fund itself. "But I'm aware not all dioceses in the Church will be able to do that," he said. He also asked: "Are church schools still the jewel in the crown of the Church? It's important we enhance and support our DBE staff."

Canon Michael Parsons (Gloucester) said that clergy training was vital to work in schools. "Clergy and lay ministers need to be centrally resourced in their involvement in schools." This should be part of continuing ministerial development, as "a regular part of their training".

Andrea Minichiello Williams (Chichester) argued that the Church should take a more robust stance in proclaiming Jesus in schools, as they were "the place to start intentional evangelism". She urged Christians to teach a Christian position on issues such as marriage, or science and creation. She also expressed concern that Bishop Pritchard had invited the gay-rights charity Stonewall to be involved in the Church's work to combat homophobic bullying.

The motion was clearly carried:

 

That this Synod, affirming the crucial importance of the Church of England's engagement with schools for its contribution to the common good and to its spiritual and numerical growth:

(a) urge dioceses, in the light of A DBE for the Future, to complete the self-evaluation framework within twelve months and thereby review their support for schools;

(b) invite dioceses to draw up plans for promoting the widest possible use of the new Christianity Project materials in both church and other schools;

(c) request the Ministry Council to consider and report to the Synod in 2014 how training for lay and ordained ministers can include more school-related experience;

(d) encourage parishes to identify and implement good practice to strengthen links between Church schools and parishes; and

(e) invite the Archbishops' Council to report to the Synod by February 2015 the outcome of its discussions with the National Society on the national governance proposals made by the Chadwick Report.

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