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EDUCATION: Wales gets a grip

09 February 2010

The schools set-up is a little different in Wales, says Edwin Counsell

A DECADE after the Dearing report proposed the development of 100 new Church of England secondary schools, the Church in Wales is getting to grips with its own review of the work of schools in the Principality.

The Church in Wales Education Review was published in September 2009, after a three-year information-gathering trawl of the church, education, and political communities of Wales.

Although Wales has a population only a little larger than that of the biggest English county, and its 167 church schools are fewer than those in a large English diocese, contrasts of language, culture, and geography, and its rural nature, set the agenda for all who have high hopes for the children and young people of Wales.

Throw devolution into the mix, along with a Welsh Assembly hungry for its own law-making powers, and suddenly the parameters that define the relationship with government are very different to those that faced Dearing.

CHURCH in Wales schools were founded with the same vigour and vision as those in England in the 19th century, yet today they form barely ten per cent of Welsh school places. Add to this the challenge of tight budgets, and more than 70,000 surplus school places, all compounded by recession, and any plans for a significant expansion of church-school provision are on hold for the foreseeable future.

The Church in Wales’s review has to function in a different atmosphere. Church schools are a statutory responsibility and a focus for Christian community, yet when Church in Wales clerics were asked about their involvement with local community schools, only 75 per cent reported weekly contact with a school.

This has led to recommendations to support the Church’s ministry in schools as a main point of engagement in local communities. Seasoned campaigners in the primary-school assembly hall will know the tell-tale sound of ripping Velcro, as the reception class play with their shoes — a timely reminder that collective worship has gone on quite long enough.

Training is vital, and every Welsh ordinand will now experience a school-based placement during each year of training as part of a core-skills programme. This will be followed up with training for serving clergy in each diocese, and a new focus on gathering lay and ordained expertise.

THE REVIEW has identified striking features in Welsh church-schools, such as a commitment to serving diverse communities, and a willingness to welcome children with additional learning needs.

It also contains data that seems to back up a premise that where schools are most explicit in their Christian character, and where they are best supported in developing this distinctiveness, pupils’ attainment is higher.

There is more work to do, but there also is much to celebrate.

Edwin Counsell is the education adviser for the Church in Wales. To see the Education Review, visit www.churchinwales.org.uk/press/resources/EducationReview/EdRev-en.pdf, or www.natsoc.org.uk/churchinwalesedreviewinenglish.pdf

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