WHAT is more important: for
a child to be happy at school, or to pass all his or her exams?
Traditionally, church schools have succeeded at both - hence their
long-standing popularity - but increasing demands on dioceses and
governing bodies mean that the task is ever more challenging.
The priority for the
Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, however, is that
children should reach the required standard in exams. Inevitably,
this puts relentless pressure on schools: they can no longer be
found "satisfactory" in their OFSTED inspection. That assessment
now means that they "require improvement".
If they do not improve at
the specified rate, the school will be forced to become an academy,
and new governors held responsible for getting the school up to
Last July, 100 schools were
stripped of their "outstanding" status because the teaching and
learning in the school had been graded only "good".
The justification for such
an unwavering concentration on standards, and pupil achievement, is
that for each child there is only one chance, and all are entitled
to the very best. There is also the larger justification: Britain
must score highly in the world's SATs - a proxy for competing in
the world marketplace.
WHAT does this mean for
church schools? We have always prided ourselves on the
church-school ethos as a priority, and as the distinguishing mark.
Our schools talk about valuing every child as a child of God, and
the relationships of trust and respect that lie at the heart of the
Ethos is a significant
aspect of the Section 48 inspection - the church-school inspection
- where inspectors are particularly keen to find examples of that
"special something" that marks out a church school.
Until recently, we have been
content to leave the inspection of standards across the curriculum,
and pupil performance, to OFSTED, and also to leave to others the
consequences of poor perform- ance. By and large, the recovery of
failing schools has not been carried out by our own diocesan
But that has all changed:
dioceses now have to take full responsibility for every aspect of
their schools, and that means school improvement, and failing
schools. The reason is partly to do with academies, and partly the
drop in the funding of local authorities.
Academies sit outside LA
structures, and receive their funds directly from central
government. As long as they meet the standards required, they can
get on with their task in their own way. Academy sponsors, however,
are held to account for what they achieve; if they do not make the
grade, then control will be taken from them and given to another
academy provider. Dioceses are subject to the same challenge.
After much negotiation, the
Department for Education agreed that for church schools forced to
become academies the default sponsor would be the diocesan board of
education. While the academy trust would be directly responsible
for standards, the board, as sponsor, would be responsible for
making sure that they cleared the bar.
This is a challenge that we
must embrace. If the name "Church of England" is over the door,
then we should be prepared to own the whole of the school's life
and work. We should be held accountable for standards, and not only
in religious education. How could we be complacent while there are
church schools "requiring improvement"? Our aspiration surely must
be "every church school an outstanding school".
This aim comes at a cost,
both in terms of cash and expertise. Ironically, although not
surprisingly in the Church of England, the first resource in
achieving this lies with volunteers. The great army of foundation
governors must gear itself up to demand only the best from the
school. It will not be enough to leave performance to the head and
Governors must know how to
read the data in order to know what to expect of the school in its
particular circumstances. They must be ready to ask the searching
questions, and must be confident that the answers that they are
given are adequate; and, then, to give total support to the head
and staff in the quest for higher standards.
TWO national projects start
this month that are designed to provide governors with the
resources they need to fulfil this wider role. Training material
will be available online, and dioceses will have the opportunity to
bid for funding for local training-projects. If you are a
foundation governor, look out for what is on offer in your diocese,
and take it up.
The cost to diocesan boards
will also be significant. They are already drawing on existing
expertise in school improvement, most importantly from other church
schools with a good track record. The latest report from the
National Society, A DBE for the Future, looks at ways in
which the service offered by the diocesan boards can and must
change to meet the new situation.
Does this mean that we have
lost sight of our original ethos? There is no excuse for letting
high standards slip, or pretending our school has special
circumstances that prevent children achieving. We can raise
academic standards while still maintaining our commitment to
Christian values and beliefs. Life in all its fullness is the
promise of the Christian revelation, and surely that means being as
committed to every child achieving as any community school.
But it also means being
committed to seeing each child as a child of God, and not a unit in
the league tables. It means being Christ to each child, especially
the most vulnerable and needy, in love. It means helping them to
love God and to love their neighbour. It means playing the game of
SATs with a greater prize in mind.
The Revd Jan Ainsworth is the C of E's Chief Education
Officer, and the General Secretary of the National Society for the
Promotion of Religious Education.