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Concern felt over minority view of C of E schools

22 November 2007

by Margaret Holness Education Correspondent

A NEW SURVEY suggests that most people, including non-Christians and followers of other faiths, approve of church schools.

The survey of 1002 adults, carried out by ORB for the Church of England, suggests that people believe church schools offer a balanced education and a caring approach.

The results, published this week, also show that, among the 447 interviewees who saw a clear difference between church and community schools, more than half rejected the idea that church schools were divisive. Two-thirds, including four out of ten interviewees who described themselves as not Christian, believed pupils benefited from school worship.

But the survey also found significant minorities with misgivings about church schools among those who believed church schools were “different”. While 70 per cent of this group felt that the schools “give places to children of all backgrounds”, 45 per cent agreed that “rules on admitting children to C of E schools mean that children from better-off backgrounds are more likely to get in.”

More than one third thought such schools “promote narrow religious teaching” and “try to force their own opinions on children rather than giving a balanced view of other religions and ideas”.

Although more than three-quarters of those questioned held strongly positive views of C of E schools, senior church education officials are concerned about the degree of misunderstanding of their admissions procedures and approaches to religious education.

  They point out that the C of E has consistently supported a blanket ban for all schools on admissions interviews and on seeking out family information. Moreover, national and diocesan guidelines emphasise the need for transparent criteria for offering “faith places” in schools. These should focus solely on church attendance, they say.

The Church’s chief education officer, the Revd Janina Ainsworth, said: “There is nothing socially selective about suggesting that those seeking a school place because of the importance they attach to the Christian faith should attend church regularly to demonstrate the connection.”

Official figures show that church schools are broadly representative of their communities, and that their presence in disadvantaged areas is in line with the national average. In some urban areas, they educate a higher proportion of ethnic-minority pupils than community schools do. New C of E secondaries, mostly developing under the academies programme, are targeted at areas of social deprivation, and offer only a minority of “faith” places.

At primary level, however, for historic reasons, the proportion of C of E places in rural areas is more than twice the national average. This affects national averages used to monitor school diversity.

Allegations of narrow RE are similarly misconceived, said church education officials. Diocesan syllabuses taught in aided schools require a broad approach and include six world faiths. Controlled schools use the local authority’s agreed syllabus. This will change if RE is included in the national curriculum, a move supported by the C of E, which has agreed to adopt the syllabus.

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