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State schools do teach values

23 May 2014

But they need more input from Christians to help with this, says John Pritchard

Jo Duckles

Growing: pupils from North Hinksey C of E School planting poppy seeds, as part of a joint project with the Royal British Legion

Growing: pupils from North Hinksey C of E School planting poppy seeds, as part of a joint project with the Royal British Legion

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 May).

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 sector.

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 outstanding.

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 families.

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 (www.oxford.anglican.org/schools/).

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.

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