The White Paper has eight chapters but only one of these deals with the much discussed "academy" word. There is much else in the document which has not yet reached the headlines. The Paper also covers issues of school performance, teacher recruitment, resources, and accountability. There is recognition of a pressing need to develop leadership within schools, and an aspiration to provide centres of excellence in promoting leadership models that work in the new landscape.
In all of this, the Church will be alert to the implications of any changes to the way in which schools are provided and resourced, but there are many opportunities for the Church of England to continue to promote a confident vision for education that is deeply Christian and serves the common good.
WITHIN this emerging context, schools will be dependent on the quality of their leaders for their standards and approach to education. There is widespread concern about the future of small rural primary schools, but only strong leadership will help to ensure that these schools remain open and continue to thrive.
System-wide academisation also significantly increases the number of high quality leaders needed for multi-academy trusts over a short time frame. These leaders will be making crucial and difficult decisions about the kind of education that the Church offers young people and how it is delivered.
The Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership, developed over the last few months, is precisely what is needed at this time. The Foundation is being created to renew the Church’s place in a rapidly changing education system by equipping leaders of the future with understanding, skills, and character to deliver a rich education for all the children and young people it serves. It will support, train, and resource those with the responsibility of leadership in education.
The Foundation will bring together a network of schools and diocesan education teams, build on work that is already happening, and offer new, larger-scale training. It will be facilitated by a small central team to access and design the very best training available. New training programmes are being developed in partnership with dioceses, teaching schools, universities and other experts.
In phase one, from September 2016 to August 2019, it will focus on several dioceses grouped in three regional pilot areas, then expand to other areas as it grows. Training programmes are being planned for head teachers and deputies, governors, and chief officers of multi-academy trusts, and a range of programmes is being developed for senior diocesan education staff.
CHURCH schools have a reputation for securing transformational outcomes for young people by combining academic rigour with a rounded approach to personal development, rooted in the worship and other shared practices that characterise the life of their community. As many schools report that they feel under pressure to make artificial choices between academic rigour and the well-being of their pupils, the Church’s unequivocal message is that there is no such distinction: a good education must promote life in all its fullness. Through the Foundation for Educational Leadership, the Church plans to equip a movement of leaders in education to achieve that vision in church schools and beyond.
Collectively, it will do this by building networks to bring school leaders together, providing quality training to give them a deep understanding of its vision for education, and the personal capabilities required to realise it, besides conducting and curating research to provide an evidence base on the outcomes for children’s spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development — findings that will feed into policy-making at all levels. This will be a truly national movement, and it will particularly target disadvantage in isolated rural and coastal areas.
The Church must act. There has never been a better time for it to be at the forefront of the educational-leadership agenda, and its confident vision and purpose in education, along with the developing proposals for networks, leadership training, and research, will ensure it continues to play a vital part in education in the years to come.
The Revd Nigel Genders is the Church of England’s chief education officer