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Matter of control

by
05 June 2015

Nigel Genders reports that the C of E is capable of putting its own house in order

THE expected deadlock in the pre-election polls led to speculation on how different permutations of a coalition government might affect education. Now that the electorate has delivered a simple Conservative majority, however, the Church of England Education Office wants to engage constructively and pro-actively with the Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, and her team.

Although the Queen's Speech heralded new powers of intervention over a wide range of schools, we shall insist that the Church retains control of its schools and promotes our vision for the transformative purpose of education. Our focus will be on wisdom for living, and the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional development that leads to the flourishing of every person. 

It is clear that there will be a continued emphasis on standards and performance, and rightly so. Children need the academic and intellectual development that education brings. They need skills in numeracy and literacy, but that is only the beginning, and we must not see a proper desire for effectiveness in these areas as in conflict with the wider purposes of education and children's well-being.

Most of our schools are rated Good or Outstanding, and pupils are attaining academic benchmarks. But we want more for our children. Church of England schools focus on spirituality and creativity, which values the arts and religion as much as it looks for the beauty in maths, the wonder in science, and the emotional understanding enhanced through poetry and music.

 

WE ALSO focus on the development of character and virtue, which enables pupils to play their part in transforming the neighbourhood and world in which they live. That is why we are delighted to be one of 14 from more than 1000 applicants to be awarded a grant from the DfE Character Fund, to carry out a substantial research project. It will examine how various approaches to teaching and pedagogy might better develop not just resilience and grit, but ways of thinking that lead to service and mutual understanding.

We are also pleased to be developing ways in which schools and colleges can help communities live well together. This is not simply about fundamental British values, which might be driven by the fear of extremism, but flows from a desire to use the diversity that is present in our schools to demonstrate what living well together really means. 

It seems clear that, in the foreseeable future, the context for education will be one where funds are restricted. Although politicians deny that education cuts are planned, data from the Institute of Fiscal Studies points to the difference between "not cutting" and not keeping up with the inflation and the growing pupil population. 

Together with additional increases in schools' contribution to teachers' pensions, and National Insurance contributions, this may lead to a cut in real terms of about ten per cent.

In such a context, if our approach is one of simply trying to trim bits off the budget further, to make ends meet, we will miss the opportunity to think more creatively about real possibilities for effective collaboration.

Since the expansion of the academies programme from 2010, we have advocated the need for formal structural partnerships between schools. The Government now prefers multi-academy trusts to single, autonomous schools, and we welcome this shift, especially in view of our many small, rural schools.

We will continue to develop our diocesan and church-school-led multi-academy trusts in a way that offers the opportunity to build strong partnerships within the church-school family, and in a way that welcomes community schools as well.

It is right, therefore, to make sure that new government powers of intervention are not exercised in a way that dilutes the ability of the Church to control its existing schools, and promote new ones. We want to take our own steps to improve the quality of our provision.

We are confident about the part played by church schools in British society, and will seek to meet the demand for more places by continuing to provide the brand of education that parents clearly want.

 

The Revd Nigel Genders is the C of E's Chief Education Officer.

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