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Under a new head

10 May 2013

SUCCESSIVE governments have struggled to grasp the importance of the Church in English schooling. Church officials have been used to reminding new Secretaries of State (they have come, on average, every two years for the past two decades) that the C of E runs a quarter of the primary schools in this country, and a lesser but still significant proportion of secondary schools. After each hiatus, respect for the Church's stewardship of one million of the country's children has been restored.

This time, however, something has changed. Despite the usual respectful rhetoric, church representatives report a continuing incomprehension of the part that the Church attempts to play in education. The exclusion of RE from the core curriculum, the halving of teacher-training places for the subject, and the zero figure given for curriculum review have all signalled a dogged refusal to listen to the Church's arguments. Added to this is the rapid expansion of the academies programme, again with minimal consultation, which has left the Church struggling to maintain the relationship.

It is clear that, at present, the Department of Education is being driven by ideology, to the extent that even schools feel that they are not being listened to. At such times, it is only reasonable to re-examine where church schools stand. Something similar was suggested in the Chadwick report published last year, with little publicity. Dr Chadwick talked of a new "concordat", though gave little detail of what this might entail.

In our view, there are two important issues to address. One is how to replace the tier of support for schools which was removed with the destruction of local education authorities. Schools now seek help from their more successful neighbours or, increasingly, from the diocese. Even community schools are making approaches. Diocesan boards of education, often employing just two or three people, are unable to cope. New funding must be found, and the question is whether any of this will come from Government, or whether the parishes must bear the extra burden. The other issue is to restore the link between a school's governance and the education policy it is expected to carry out. The increase in the number of organisations involved in education has diffused the schools' voice. The C of E, as by far the largest stakeholder, is in a position to negotiate a greater say in the formulation of policy rather than, as at present, read about it in the weekend papers.

To make progress in either of these areas, the calibre of the Church's arguments, resources, and personnel must be first-class. The Government will not take the Church seriously if it believes that it cannot meet its new challenges. For its part, the DfE ought to be warned that it, too, will not be taken seriously if it fails to draw on the wisdom and expertise that the Church has to offer.

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