THE Chief Education Officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, standing in for the Bishop of Ely, who was ill, recounted a visit he had made to a church school. He had asked the pupils what their school was for. “Time and time again the answer was maths. ‘We just do maths.’”
But one girl in Year 2 had said that school was about getting good qualifications so that you could get a good job and earn enough money. “In that one brief sentence was the all-prevailing economic narrative of education writ large, which society has bought, hook, line, and sinker. Our vision for education is bigger than that.”
The presentation was about how the Church was working to promote a more “transformative focus of lifelong learning that leads to the flourishing of every person”. He introduced Professor Joy Carter, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Winchester, who chairs the new project’s steering group.
Professor Carter said that there had been much success in church education, but there were new opportunities. Her project aimed to empower teachers and leaders with a special form of C of E education. It also hoped to address the shortage and retention of teachers and government policy, especially recent interest in “character education”.
Classic education and exam results would always be important, but character education was just as important, she said. The Department for Education (DfE) had given the National Society a grant to research character education, as had the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtue. The kind of values to be encouraged were self-control, curiosity, endurance, collaboration, and courage. So far, the project had begun a “detailed needs-analysis” in consultation with teachers, head teachers, children and family workers, and diocesan leadership.
Canon James Allison (West Yorkshire & the Dales) spoke of teachers in their fifties who felt “burnt out”, and were treated by some schools as “disposable assets”, despite being expected to work until they were 68. Was the National Society addressing this issue?
Emma Forward (Exeter) asked about the risk and opportunity for children of the digital age, and also what could be done about the increase in mental-health issues among young people, including eating disorders and suicide.
Professor Carter said that, as a scientist, she was passionate about providing role-models for young people, and inspiring young women to consider engineering and science.
Mr Genders hoped that this project would help teachers “not to feel that the world is against them but that they have the whole weight of the Church of England standing shoulder to shoulder with them”.
The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, welcomed the initiative, for which there was a “very significant appetite”.
Dr Yvonne Warren (Coventry) asked whether the reason so many head teachers left early and felt disillusioned was “because the power of governors and parents has gone too much one way”.
Mr Genders suggested that the sustainability of the system was not about power and control, but “ensuring that governors and teachers and parents share this common vision for education”.
In response to the Revd Paul Ayers (Leeds), who asked whether there was a place in church schools for “an invitation to encounter a life-changing experience with Jesus Christ”, Mr Genders said that the National Society was developing the “Christianity Project” to “ensure that the teaching of Christianity within schools is so fantastic that young people get an understanding of the whole sweep of salvation history rather than just a ‘Here’s a church; there’s the pulpit’ type of education”.
As a governor of a secular community school, the Revd Christopher Hobbs (London) said that values of revelation, thanksgiving, humility, and morality were not exclusive to church schools.
Mr Genders agreed, but said they had to be clear about what underpinned these values. “The mission, the ethos, the things our schools hold dear is being distinctive about where that narrative comes from: a life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ and the Christian faith.”
The Revd Karen Hutchinson (Guildford) reported a concern that future teachers would have to “choose between training for church schools or community schools”.
Mr Genders hoped that the new scheme would not do that. He looked forward to the day when people who want to be trained to understand and be empowered to know what education was for “go to the Church of England, because we know how to do it”.
Dr Carter told Lucy Docherty (Portsmouth) that the National Society was committed to resourcing governance.
Mr Genders told Alison Fisher (Leeds) that the Society was talking to both OFSTED and the DfE about the project.
The absence of religious education on the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) was of concern to the Revd Christopher Strain (Salisbury). Mr Genders said that the National Society would “continue seeking meetings all the time to talk about this really important question”. The absence of RE on the EBacc was a “huge oversight”.