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Church schools

13 July 2012

THE Chadwick report, The Church School of the Future, was the subject of a presentation on Monday afternoon.

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, who chairs the Board of Education, suggested that, "for the long-term good of the Church of England, nothing is of greater importance than how we respond to the Chadwick report." He sought to get across the "momentousness of the time we're in". If this opportunity was missed, the Christian story would "continue to slide out of our cultural memory"; but, by seizing it, the Church could be "embedding that story in the life of the nation in a way we haven't been able to do for decades".

After giving a brief history of church schools, he said that the system whereby two types of church schools existed (voluntary aided and voluntary controlled) was on the verge of break-up. Free Schools were being encouraged, and local authorities, which provided "vital support", were "in meltdown, starved of money and responsibility".

Other changes were also under way in a "new, quickly evolving, not entirely understood" landscape. The Chadwick report addressed many questions emanating from this, and made 26 recommendations. Church schools were "absolutely and irrevocably at the heart of our mission". The Church was "in our schools, not just in our sacred buildings". This "culture change" must reach into diocesan strategy and budgets, to ensure that school performance was maintained.

The Bishop warned that "Church schools are under suspicion or attack in many corners of society," from the House of Lords to the Accord Coalition. The response must be "not defensive, but confidently on the front foot". The "spiritual core" of schools must be in evidence.

Anna Smith (Church of England Youth Council) suggested that an opportunity to consult and hear the voice of pupils in academies and C of E schools had been missed. How did the Board plan to hear these views, and get them to help shape future priorities?

Nick Harding (Nottingham & Southwell) said that the Synod was "great" at "supporting and considering the view of the minority" - those children who attended church schools. But it must remember the 90 per cent: those who did not attend church schools. He urged the Bishop to restate his commitment to "all" children and young people.

Vasantha Gnanadoss (Southwark) asked if members of the review committee would give serious consideration to including a question on school application forms about whether a person was "a member or active supporter of the British National Party, or any organisation whose constitution's policies . . . are incompatible with the Church of England's commitment to promoting racial equality".

The Bishop of Grimsby, the Rt Revd David Rossdale (Lincoln), drew attention to "the ministry of governors within the life of the school". The Church should be encouraged "to understand its involvement with church schools as a real function of ministry available to all within the Church".

Canon Tony Walker (Southwell & Nottingham) mentioned clergy training. None of the interviews on which most of the report was based came "from ordinary parish clergy or area rural deans . . . but only from 'senior clergy'". Training incumbents and area deans could bring together curates "to discuss specific problems facing small, mainly rural, schools".

The Chief Education Officer of the Church of England and General Secretary of the National Society and the Board of Education, the Revd Jan Ainsworth, sharing responsibility for answering questions with Bishop Pritchard, said that recommendations about clergy training were "in a sense the tip of the iceberg". A "great sense of urgency" had come through from the respondents "that if you got them early enough, you could encourage clergy to take on that full and wide role in relation to schools".

Elizabeth Renshaw (Chester) asked why the report was called Church Schools of the Future when it was mainly about structures rather than schools. She also thought it was "a little ambitious" to recommend changes taking place in two years.

Bishop Pritchard said that the children and their schools could be helped by getting the structures right; and it was necessary to look at the Church's structures in light of Michael Gove's reforms. The Bishop said the two-year timetable related to the implementation stage; the work would carry on beyond then.

James Townsend (Manchester) asked whether the structural changes would ensure that all schools could be supported - particularly those serving children whose success was "limited by their socio-economic background".

Bishop Pritchard said that there were different models of supporting schools in needy areas, including multi-academy trusts.

The Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, said that, with multi-church benefices, clergy could find themselves looking after four or five church schools as well as community schools. He suggested that the clergy could be encouraged to give up their responsibility as governors "in order to be effective as chaplains and priests, and not bear the governor's load".

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