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