THE staggering price difference between the hardback and the
ebook version of Anglican Church School Education: Moving
beyond the first 200 years, edited by Howard J. Worsley
(Bloomsbury, eBook £23.99 (£21.60); hardback £75
(£67.50); 978-1-4411-2513-2), is a striking indicator that
we are indeed moving beyond the first 200 years.
In some ways, the volume represents a bridge between the eras BG
and AG. Michael Gove is such a ferociously radical Education
Secretary that the book, drawn up at a symposium in 2011 to honour
the creation of the National Society 200 years ago, seems almost to
represent a more genteel age.
The roll-call of the 15 contributors reads like a Who's
Who of church-school education over the past half-century.
Priscilla Chadwick, David Lankshear, Jeff Astley, Leslie Francis,
Alan Brown, Trevor Cooling, and the editor, Howard Worsley, all
have an impressive and extensive list of publications and learned
articles in this field to their names.
The writing is, therefore, clear, succinct, and a comprehensive
summary of the Church's involvement in the state education system
since its inception. It will deservedly take its place in acadenic
establishments, and will feature in research articles for years to
The four sections of the book make its remit very clear. The
history section cannot be faulted, nor the reflection on current
philosophy and practice. In terms of the volume's final section,
subtitled "Blue-sky Thinking" (are we really still using that kind
of terminology?), it is not the editor's fault that Mr Gove has
clouded our blue skies in a way that none of us could possibly have
This volume is embedded in a culture of defending church
schools. Mr Gove positively likes church schools. He has no problem
with a Heinz 57 varieties of religious establishments. The problem
is his almost visceral hatred of local authorities. The Academies
Act of 2011 is mentioned only once in nearly 300 pages.
It is little known that any new school has to be an academy.
Mayans prophesying the end of the world, with a safe refuge in some
obscure village, could probably secure Mr Gove's permission to open
a school, provided it is an academy. The blue skies now have any
number of flying saucers. It is chaos out there.
Dr Chadwick's masterly summary of the grant-maintained-status
debate in the '90s makes that the first article to wait for when
she brings us up to date in any forthcoming reprint.
At her disposal will be a brilliant résumé of the point we have
reached. The Life and Death of Secondary Education for
All, by Richard Pring (Routledge, £25.99
(£23.40); 978-0-415-53636-3), is hot off the press, and it
shows. He fills in some of the gaps in the previous volume, but
without particular refence to church schools.
Local authorities are being systematically replaced by a whole
range of sponsors, trusts, and providers. Readers will learn of
E-Act, ARK, and Cognita, all now managing schools in significant
numbers. Mr Gove's skies will shortly be invaded by ever more
surreal bodies. Kunskapsskolan ("the knowledge school") is a
particularly baffling prospect. At least Manchester City and
Tottenham Hotspur are familiar names. We just had not necessarily
thought of them as in the vanguard of curriculum development. That
really is flying a kite. The skies are not just clouded, they're
pretty much crowded as well.
Professor Pring has held the Chair of Educational Studies at
Oxford for many years. His writing is mercifully free of jargon,
and he gives a cogent and readable account of where Pilot Officer
Gove is taking us. "In the pursuit of reform," Professor Pring
says, "we are witnessing the most radical changes in the
educational system in England since the Second World War."
The language is neither melodramatic nor hyperbolic. Put simply
- and Professor Pring is a master of that particular art - we are
seeing a seismic shift from the dream of a well-educated workforce
to a more prosaic vision of a well-trained one. Education returns
to being a privilege of the minority. GCSE is now routinely
"trashed", and there is widespread undermining of what schools were
asked to deem as success as recently as two years ago.
Professor Pring argues the case that secondary education for all
- and, equally importantly, how we judge its success - needs a
complete overhaul. But this is by no means an anti-Gove diatribe.
He accepts that vast investment has not produced the desired
result. Nevertheless, he has no qualms in referring to "the
draconian increase in central-government power". Nor can he resist
the side-swipe warning to the current incumbent that "too much
power gained by one minister may be used for the opposite purposes
by the next".
Of an altogether more practical flavour is Encounters on
the Edge, No. 55: Thirst (Church Army, £4; individual
copies available from
www.encountersontheedge.org.uk). It is an account
of what happened when a group of parents met at the school gate in
a down-at-heel area of Cambridge (yes, there is such a thing).
Coming to the conclusion that, to many, "church" means people in an
alien building, meeting on an inconvenient day, at an inconvenient
time, the group first agree to meet in each other's homes.
Believing that "church" is people, the innovative step comes
when they return to the school - not at the gate this time, but in
"What does the school make of it all?" the last chapter in the
pamphlet asks. It is worth buying for these pages alone, in which
the benefits to the school are described. It is an impressive list.
Lifts to appointments; helping parents to deal with bereavement,
divorce, separation, and prison; and providing cookery lessons and
spiritual succour. Wonderful.
"Go to a place neither of you have been before," the subtitle
says. Mr Gove would be proud of that.