IF ASKED which individuals have done most to "trigger" the
transformation in the fortunes of Church of England schools in
recent years, the names George Carey and David Blunkett might not
easily spring to mind.
When Dr Carey, newly installed as Archbishop of Canterbury,
asked a typically trenchant question of an audience of head
teachers of Anglican schools, more than 20 years ago, he cannot
have imagined where it would lead: "Why is the Church of England so
embarrassed about its schools?"
The Archbishop was speaking against the backdrop of the opening
stages of "the long goodbye". Local education authorities, the
dominant force in English education for at least a century, were
increasingly coming under sustained attack.
Successive governments, anxious to be in the vanguard of
reforming what they considered to be a failed system, had begun to
see the LEAs as dinosaurs of a bygone age, dedicated to preserving
their fiefdoms and frustrating any move to change the status
Ken Baker's city technology colleges, and John Major's
grant-maintained schools cascaded into the torrent of Tony Blair's
revolution. Specialist schools were followed by beacon schools. And
there were indications that sponsored academies would become the
mechanism of choice, to free schools of LEA control and lead us to
the new Jerusalem. Michael Gove's free schools have surely
completed the process.
David Blunkett, the long-time left-leaning leader of Sheffield
City Council - at one time known as "the People's Republic of South
Yorkshire" - stunned the Educational establishment, in 2000, with
his extraordinary endorsement of church schools during his tenure
as Education Secretary.
Famously stating that he would like to "bottle" the ethos of
church schools and "spread it" round the system, he opened the door
to a new era for church secondary schools.
THE Dearing report, driven by the leadership of Canon
John Hall, the then general secretary of the National Society and
now Dean of Westminster, set the agenda.
The Chadwick report, in 2012, gives a picture of the dramatic
changes over little more than a decade. With 4800 schools in the
"family", the Church of England is the largest single provider in
England. One million children attend church schools.
Eighty sponsored academies, and 277 "converter academies"
illustrate the extent to which the Church of England has embraced
the new dynamic for educational change.
The Church of England can reflect, with some satisfaction, that
the "new" academy provision is overwhelmingly in areas of high
social disadvantage; that average free-school-meals eligibility is
now 15 per cent (as it is in non-church schools); and that 25 per
cent of the students are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds
- almost identical to the proportion in other parts of the
It would be wrong, however, to assume that all is changed. On
the contrary, the primary sector remains much as it was. There are
4443 C of E primary schools, filling a position in the state sector
established for them by R. A. Butler's great Education Act of
The so-called dual system is a model that has stood the test of
time. Not only does the system involve Church and State on a
national scale: it does so in microcosm in hundreds of small, often
rural communities across the land, from Cornwall to Cumbria, where
the village school has a Church of England foundation.
It is remarkable how successful the partnership has been. Such
schools, for the most part, continue to function under LEA control
and supervision. Considering themselves too small to choose
stand-alone academy status, the multi-academy-trust model is in
place to supervise schools that have "failed" an OFSTED inspection,
and which the Government has compelled to leave LEA control.
ALL schools are now part ofa "diversity and choice" system; so
there is no longer any need to be defensive about the
distinctiveness and proven success of Church of England
A church-school expert, Professor Jeff Astley, has suggested
that there are three considerations: education into Christianity;
education about Christianity; and education in a Christian
All state schools can aspire to the third. There will be little
that is distinctively Christian about them. Roman Catholic (and
Muslim) schools will unequivocally subscribe to the first, subject
as they are to direction from their supervising bodies.
Church of England schools can afford to be altogether subtler,
more responsive to a variety of local circumstances, and
distinctive in a way which responds to Lord Runcie's words: we are
"to nourish those of the faith, encourage those of other faiths,
and challenge those of no faith".
There will be "no apology for theology", because RE will be of
both high quality and high status as we pass on to our students a
distinctive view of the Christian heritage and its contemporary
challenge. We may even gently try to educate our students into
Christianity in collective worship, mind-ful also of Lady Runcie's
famous words: "Too much religion makes me go off pop."
This may be something of a golden age for Church of England
schools. Subjected to the state's rigorous inspection regime, we
know that 76 per cent of Church of England secondary schools are
currently rated "good" or "outstanding" - above the proportion in
other parts of the sector.
Accusations that Church of England schools favour the middle
classes are withering on the vine, as huge numbers of disadvantaged
students increasingly come under the Church's umbrella. C of E
academies that are fortunate enough to be in the leafy suburbs,
with privileged intakes, must now face up to the new challenge of
joining multi-academy trusts with other church schools in radically
The gospel demands no less. It is an inspiring agenda. "Why is
the Church of England embarrassed about its schools?" You must be
Dennis Richards was head teacher of St Aidan's C of E High
School,in Harrogate, for 23 years. He isnow the chair of governors
at St Oswald's C of E Primary Academy, in Brad-ford, and a governor
of the David Young Community Academy in Leeds.