IT HAS been a busy fortnight in the public world of education,
but then, it usually is. There was a dispute between Coalition
partners over the funding of free schools and free school meals;
peace was eventually sealed, if not with a kiss, at least with a
co-written article and a smiling photo. The "Trojan horse" Inquiry
into some Birmingham schools gained momentum, as it was suggested
that "super-heads" might be appointed to sort them out (News, 16
Then the chairman of the Independent Schools Association (ISA),
Richard Walden, caused a flurry of feathers by asserting that state
schools were turning out amoral children because teachers could not
find the time to teach the difference between right and wrong.
Unsurprisingly, this was not warmly received in the state
At the same time, the Archbishop of Canterbury launched new
guidelines for C of E schools to challenge bullying behaviour,
particularly over gay issues (News, 16 May).
THERE is a common theme in all this, which plays right into the
heart of the Church of England's commitment to education: the issue
of what the ISA chairman called "the moral compass" that children
need for life.
As is so often the case, he was surely right in what he
affirmed, and wrong in what he denied. He was right that a moral
compass matters. Church schools are committed to offering the
highest-quality, rounded education in "spiritual, moral, social and
cultural development", as required by the National Curriculum and,
more importantly, by the gospel.
Where he was less helpful was in denying that state schools were
delivering education in values. They are. Go to any primary school
especially, and look for its values statement. It will be full of
phrases such as "caring for each other", "respect", "honesty",
"trust", and "welcome".
Church schools are distinctive, however, in that we believe that
the values we offer are not plucked out of the air or constructed
merely by best current secular thinking, but are rooted in the
narrative of Jesus of Nazareth.
It is good news that, in their SIAMS (Statutory Inspection of
Anglican and Methodist Schools) inspections, which focus on such
issues of distinctiveness, 92 per cent of church primary schools
and 90 per cent of church secondaries were judged good or
THE question we are left with, however, is one of method. How
are our schools to deliver such formation of character, when the
pressure on class-time is so great, and the focus on targets is so
intense? How can Christians help headteachers to shape schools in
forming values, disciplines, and habits of the heart?
One answer is to make sure that the elements that make the
church school distinctive are well aligned. The distinctiveness of
our schools depends on five such elements: the head teacher and
senior management team, the governors, the parish, the diocesan
board of education, and a number of children from Christian
The most effective church schools are those where the alignment
of these allows the school to lift off and fly. There is a common
vision, a sense of Christian purpose, and a spirit of happy
co-operation and mutual support. What heads cannot do is to help
shape character in a vacuum. If it takes a village to raise a
child, the church should be at the very heart of that village.
I am heartened by the church-school partnerships that I see: the
clergy who drop into the staff room for coffee, the heads who sit
on the PCC, the Christians who run breakfast clubs, coach football,
go on school trips, and create prayer-spaces. I could go on: in our
diocese, we publish a booklet of 101 such ideas
The walls between church and school should be porous. We have
skills to share. Many teachers feel inadequate when it comes to
leading worship; yet we have been doing that for a while.
Meanwhile, our churches contain an unmatched army of volunteers,
whose quiet Christian service contributes something immeasurably
precious to school life - whether that is listening to readers, or
serving on a committee.
GOVERNORS make a particularly important contribution. We have
more than 22,000 foundation governors in our schools, giving their
time and experience probably more generously than they ever
imagined would be necessary. We need our finest lay people to see
this as a key piece of service and a vital form of discipleship. No
longer will it do for the last person standing at the AGM to be
asked to take on the job.
There is a similar need for strong commitment from another of
our five partners - the clergy. I always say to clergy that they
can't state: "I don't do funerals;" that simply doesn't work. Nor
can they say "I don't do schools." If we are serious about mission,
that doesn't work, either.
Schools, church and non-church, are at the heart of the Church's
mission, and at this point in our Church's story, church schools in
particular are the most precious of gifts. There are more children
in our schools on Monday morning than there are adults and children
together in our churches on Sunday.
There is no doubt that ministry in schools is front-line
mission. We need to turn our thinking as vigorously to this work as
we are doingto re-imagining ministry in our parishes. Lay people
and clergy: your schools need you.
The Rt Revd John Pritchard is the Bishop of Oxford and
chairman of the Board of Education.