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Bishop of Oxford’s views on schools and values

06 June 2014


From the Revd Dr John Caperon

Sir, - The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, rightly highlights the strong values base of church-school education ("State schools do teach values", Comment, 23 May), and offers what we might call the key strategic fact: that "there are more children in our schools on Monday morning than there are adults and children together in our churches on Sunday."

In the light of this hugely significant information, what is surprising about Bishop Pritchard's article is that he doesn't mention the vital ministry of school chaplains. Although we don't yet have full information on how many chaplains work in schools, recent research by the Bloxham Project and OxCEPT identified some four hundred school chaplains, and it is likely that the true number is higher.

If we include also the many parish clergy who have a quasi-chaplaincy role in their local schools, and the increasing number of lay "para-chaplains" working on behalf of local or national charities and providing pastoral support to pupils and staff, the significance of this ministry is clear.

Chaplaincy in our schools provides a vital link between the young and the Church; it is the form of Christian ministry with which they are most likely to have any contact. Chaplains can both embody and signpost the gospel, and their presence, support and counsel are highly valued by pupils, as our research showed. As the "public face of God" in their schools, to cite a recent report, they are in an unrivalled position to represent Christ to the young.

This diverse and demanding ministry deserves our recognition, support, and encouragement; it is vital to the Church's mission.

Sarum, Twyfords
East Sussex TN6 1YE


From the Revd Richard Bentley

Sir, - It is disappointing that the Bishop of Oxford, who chairs the Board of Education, again emphasises the "distinctiveness" of church schools, on the grounds that they are committed to offering the highest-quality, rounded education in "spiritual, moral, social, and cultural development".

He then asserts that it is wrong to deny, as some have, that state schools fail to deliver "education in values". Those of us committed to education in community schools may feel that we have been damned with faint praise. And he goes on to suggest that church schools are "distinctive" because their values are not "plucked out of the air".

I would like to register the strongest possible objection to this misleading and patronising statement. People of faith do not hold a monopoly in moral perception. What the Bishop of Oxford calls "the narrative of Jesus of Nazareth" surely reminds us that our calling is to affirm the values of the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed for the potential benefit of every member of society.

Our calling in education is, therefore, to work within our political system to remove inequality and division and to help to establish the best possible local school for every child. That aim was, I believe, at the heart of the Church's earliest commitment to education.

If we can now justify church schools only on the basis of their "distinctiveness", and as an area of "front-line mission", I believe that they have lost their purpose, and we have lost our way.

104 Cannon Street
Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk IP33 1JU

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