Time for the Church to pay up

by
10 June 2016

If it wants to continue making a difference in children’s education, the Church needs to embrace the opportunities, argues Alex Tear

Collective act: more than a million children worship together daily in Church of England schools

Collective act: more than a million children worship together daily in Church of England schools

AT A recent meeting of diocesan Directors of Education (DDEs), a colleague remarked how odd it was that most of us in the room were referring to the Education and Adoption Act, passed only in April, as the “old bill”. All discussion now is of the Government’s new White Paper, already subject to an apparent change of heart over plans to force schools to become academies. But if you think this was a U-turn, read the small print.

For diocesan education teams directly responsible for church schools and implementing legal changes, the recently agreed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the National Society, on behalf of the Church of England, and the Department for Education sets out a helpful framework for their relationship with the DfE as they leave behind the ‘dual system’ of education established under the 1944 Education Act.

Crucially, the MOU sets out the principles and protocols for how diocesan boards and DDEs will work with the eight regional schools commissioners, the new ‘barons’ in the academy-dominated system, who have delegated powers from the Secretary of State to decide which schools become academies and which multi-academy trusts they will join.

 

FOR Church of England schools, the ground rules are clear; so far, we have avoided any fallout or collateral damage as these relationships bed down, although it is still early days. It is clear that the regional schools commissioners need the help of dioceses if their vision of universal academisation is to be achieved in the timescales they require.

The future of small rural schools will almost certainly be the Achilles’ heel of the Government’s policy on academies and a large proportion (65%) of church schools fall into this category. Diocesan boards of education will need to be ready with creative solutions for these schools if they are to guard against the risk of closures further down the line.

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The White Paper has much to say about the development of leadership, teacher training and recruitment, the importance of character education, and tackling under-performance in failing schools. The contribution of church schools, with their strong and  explicit emphasis on the formation of character, and Christian ethos, is being increasingly recognised as an important part of what the Church can offer the national system. More than one million young people each day hear the gospel narrative and take part in collective worship.

 

IF THEY are to play a full part in the future shaping of education, dioceses and their boards of education will need to embrace the opportunities in the White Paper and increase their capacity to sponsor more church schools, tackle under-performance, and develop leadership programmes. The Church of England’s new Foundation for Educational Leadership will be a key part of this provision.

The Church must also invest properly in its educational infrastructure, so that it can play a part in the national schools system. It is already the largest provider of academies in the country, and yet it under-invests in its own educational portfolio in comparison with other sponsors and academy chains, which would relish the opportunity to run as many schools as the C of E does.

This includes the challenge of providing effective governance for schools, as well as experienced, skilled "Foundation Directors" for the boards of Church multi-academy trusts. They will be responsible for maintaining the distinctiveness and quality of education in Church academies.

If the Church fails to resource its boards of education, it may have to start closing the small church schools at the heart of some communities, or it will start to lose its schools to other, secular, academy sponsors, which are better resourced to tackle under-performance.

In 1999, General Synod carried a motion affirming “that church schools stand at the heart of our mission to the nation”. If, in 2016, this is still true, then each part of the system must operate effectively. My diocesan-director colleagues are up for the challenge, but is the Church?

 

Alex Tear is the diocesan director of education for Rochester diocese, and chairs the Association of Anglican Directors of Education (AADE)

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