THE Church of England is seeking a new concordat with the Government, which would restate the historic church-state partnership in school provision, and confirm the Church’s wider position in the education system. The issue is on the agenda for a meeting between Church of England education leaders and the Education Minister, Lord Hill, scheduled for next week in the House of Lords.
A concordat, which could also draw together existing legislation relating to church schools, is necessary because of the Government’s drive to make academies the default model, the C of E’s chief education officer, the Revd Jan Ainsworth, said. “When C of E schools become academies, the Church’s interest is secured not by statute, as has been the case until now, but by contract — the funding agreement — which is less secure.”
Mrs Ainsworth said that she was confident that ministers would be sympathetic to the Church’s proposal. The most recent official affirmation of the church-state partnership, Faith in the System, was drawn up under the previous government, and published in 2006. A Conservative-led Government might find it hard to decline to match it.
The concept of a new concordat that recognises “the key role of church schools” was one of the recommendations of a new review of the C of E’s representation in the school system, which is published today. It says that the Church’s stake is set to grow in the diverse educational landscape that is now emerging. The expansion is likely to happen in spite of the growing secularist attacks on church schools, because the C of E brand is popular and trusted, it says.
Chaired by Dr Priscilla Chadwick, a leading Anglican educationist, who this week described C of E schools as “the Church’s front-line”, the review is the first since the seminal Dearing report, which was published a decade ago. Dearing reversed the decline in the number of church schools, but, unlike her predecessor, Dr Chadwick sets no numerical targets.
Her recommendations, however, would lead to a substantial increase in the size of what the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, chairman of the Board of Education, describes as “the church-school family”.
In an article for the online version of The Sunday Times at the weekend, Bishop Pritchard estimated that, within five years, the present total of 4800 C of E schools could rise to more than 5000. Many more community schools and academies are also likely to seek some level of attachment to the Church — a trend already visible.
Moreover, Dr Chadwick envisages that, as the scope of local education authorities shrinks, non-church schools and academies will turn to local diocesan experts for advice on curriculum and management questions.
Underpinning these potential developments is the Church’s confidence in what it has to offer. Given its 200-year-old experience of providing free schools nationally, and its statutory place in the education system, the C of E is not just one provider among many, the review says.
In addition to its generally assertive tone, the review also sees itself as a “call to arms”, and makes it clear that much that the Church and its supporters cherish — distinctively Christian church schools and religious education for all children — is at risk, and must be defended.
Domestically, the most controversial recommendations involve streamlining the Church’s educational organisations, notably the creation of a single central organisation to represent Anglican education interests. This would have a single name — perhaps the Church of England Education Office — ending the historic but confusing use of the names Board of Education and National Society. The move is strongly backed by Bishop Pritchard, who has welcomed its inclusion in the report.
This initiative would be supplemented by a closer partnership between Church House and the diocesan directors of education, who would have a greater say in policy-making.
The review also addresses diocesan boards of finance on the need for more well-qualified and well-paid staff to carry out the educational remit that it outlines for the future. Bishop Pritchard acknowledges that this is a big ask, given current financial constraints, but says: “This is a wake-up call to the Church to support its schools practically, as well as with words. In our schools, more than one million children hear daily about a loving God. We can’t let them down.”