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Education: Reaching for better standards

06 February 2015

Nigel Genders outlines an ambitious plan to influence teacher-training for Church of England schools

At a stretch: pupils from Jesson's Primary School, Dudley

At a stretch: pupils from Jesson's Primary School, Dudley

THE values that underpin our society are constantly in the news. Schools are under increasing pressure, as pupils find themselves negotiating complex local and global issues simultaneously, and the system provides few resources to equip them for this journey.

If the Church is to offer a meaningful framework on which schools and students can build a response, it is important that the its education system regain a confidence about its vision and purpose.

Dramatic changes to the education landscape have resulted in the need for greater flexibility over structures, an encouragement for diversity and imagination, the devolution of teacher-training systems, and a renewed emphasis on governance. These are all areas where the Church should come forward with positive ideas, and make a significant contribution.

If you speak to head teachers around the country, however, many feel frustrated. They have a clear sense of the distinctive kind of education they wish to offer: providing rigorous academic foundations, and preparing young people for a world of work, while exploring their identity as human beings and enabling them to flourish and build relationships that improve society.

The problem that head teachers articulate is that, even with all the changes, our schools have little control over how teachers are trained. They have to take those whom they are given, or get more involved in running school-based training courses such as School Direct. But that is not easy for a small rural primary school.

In essence, the Church can be proud of a prophetic vision for education, but currently has little power to do anything about it in our schools.

WHEN I speak to diocesan leaders, or to many of the 22,500 foundation governors whom the Church of England appoints, they tell me that they find it difficult to recruit school leaders who share a vision for education that goes beyond the latest OFSTED framework or DfE initiative.

Our solution is simple but ambitious. We aim to build the Church's capacity to achieve our vision with a Church of England Institute of Teaching and Educational Leadership. This would draw together our huge network of schools, dioceses, universities, and parishes in a way that enables us to articulate more clearly our vision for education.

It will provide the means to recruit, train, nurture, and develop the human talent responsible for achieving our vision, and will be rooted in research that develops a complementary pedagogical approach.

More than one third of all primary teacher-training places are, in one form or another, currently within the Church of England's network. We should, therefore, be expecting to have a significant impact on the way teachers are trained in this country, and must do our part as a trusted partner in education to take a lead in this area.

So, what next? We have embarked on a big conversation across the Church about our vision for the common good, achieved through our mission in education, and we are actively developing the proposal which will offer long-term resilience for the Church's work in this all important area.

Through this institute, we aim to offer a way of bringing 4700 schools, 11 Anglican foundation universities, 66 Church of England teaching schools, and 41 dioceses together to provide a means of turning our stake in education into a dynamic movement that will enable us to train and resource teachers, leaders, and governors for schools within the context of a transforming vision for our society.

The Revd Nigel Genders is the Church of England's Chief Education Officer.

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