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EDUCATION: Doing things for effect

19 September 2014

Nigel Genders shares his agenda as the new chief education officer

THE beginning of a new school year: some of what lies ahead is fixed and familiar, some things are planned, but there may - almost certainly will - be surprises. Of one thing I'm certain, as I take up the position of chief education officer: as far as the Church of England's education division is concerned, the opportunities that lie ahead are at least as challenging as when our forebears founded the National Society, 200 years ago.

In many ways, now is more complex than then. In 1811, we were starting, mostly from scratch, to provide primary education for the nation's children, where previously none had existed. Now, we have a diverse network of 4700 primary and secondary schools and academies, that serve one million children.

Apart from the state, the C of E is the largest schools-provider in the country. Given the growth in the school-age population, some of these are bursting at the seams, and we plan to build more. There are also 12 universities "with our name on it", to quote a familar TV advert. They provide places for thousands of students - many without a family tradition of higher education - and most have large teacher-education departments. Our parishes provide a huge reserve of expertise and volunteers for our schools to drawn on.

So we have the makings of a dynamic partnership that is able to meet the demands of constantly rising expectations, and the new responsibilities placed on providers for the standards in their schools. And, because we and others know that church schools offer that extra something - the ingredient that a former Secretary of State wanted to bottle and distribute round the system - we must ensure that there is a supply of school leaders, class teachers, and governors who understand the underpinning characteristics of a church school.

AT THE moment, we depend on optional modules in other organisations to provide initial teacher education, leadership training, and professional development for teachers in our school.

That is not enough. I seek to give the highest priority to the development of a co-ordinated teaching and leadership programme for church schools, a national C of E approach. So watch this space.

Another project already under way concerns small, rural schools. Although the majority - 61 per cent - of our one million pupils are in our urban, mostly larger, primary schools, more than half our schools serve rural communities, many with fewer than 100 pupils, some even smaller.

THE Church of England's commitment to every community means that we want to find ways of continuing to provide education for all; so this autumn we will be publishing a report and potential templates for diocesan boards of education, to use as they develop their strategies for their rural schools.

Collective worship that captures children's imagination, and good religious education, are key ingredients for C of E schools, and, this month, we will publish the findings of our own review of the teaching of RE in our schools. The resulting action-plan will contribute to the development of a rigorous curriculum, and ensure that we offer effective training and resources to RE teachers.

This term, we will also be launching our Christianity project, to help students develop a deeper understanding of the Christian faith.

For the past 15 years, we have said that we want our schools to be "effective, distinctive, and inclusive". These terms pointed the way ahead, and have led to a significant improvement in the quality of our educational provision. But, in the present landscape, we need to think less about what makes our schools different, and more about why we are involved in education at all, and why it is so important.

We have said that church schools are at the heart of our mission, but now we must think about mission as being at the heart of what education is for: a concern about how the world is, imagining how it could be, and helping our children to be agents of that transformation.

The Revd Nigel Genders  (above) is the new Chief Education Officer for the Church of England and General Secretary of the National Society.


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