THE fundamental principle underpinning the Church of England schools policy was a commitment to providing “the best possible education for every child”, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, told the House of Lords on Thursday of last week.
Speaking in the absence of the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, who is lead bishop for education, Bishop James was taking part in a debate on the current Green Paper proposal to open more grammar schools.
He referred to another Green Paper proposal — to lift the present cap on faith places in church and other faith schools — to emphasise the broader approach of C of E schools. This would have a minimal impact on the Church’s position in education, which was to provide schools that served their local community, he said. The Church did, however, intend to expand its provision of technical and special education, he said.
Grammar-school educated himself, Bishop James said: “I fully understand why grammar schools are thought by some to be engines of social mobility, even if it is contested territory; but I never hear anyone saying ‘Bring back secondary moderns.’ We can relabel them as high schools, or give them some other title, but they remain schools where a quarter of the pupils — the most able in any area — are missing.”
In taking the proposals forward, he continued, the challenge for the Government was to ensure that no one was disadvantaged. “The emphasis must remain on ensuring that every child had the opportunity to attend an excellent school.”
In a debate that revealed cross-party scepticism about the grammar-school proposals, Lord Cormack, who was a member of the General Synod from 1995 to 2005, drew attention to their advantages. A former grammar-school teacher — and, as Patrick Cormack, a Conservative MP for 40 years — he said that the proposals did not envisage a return to the 11-plus. “None of us should seek to deprive others of what we ourselves have benefited from. I believe there are certain things in the grammar-school tradition that could profitably be developed elsewhere.”
The hallmark of a good grammar school was discipline and respect for learning, he said. “You cannot have an education where quality is at least as important as equality unless there is a disciplined framework within a school.
“We desperately need all our children to be excited by whatever discipline, academic or sporting, they are following. And we need all our children to have true respect for others and tolerance of their beliefs. . . I do not believe that what the Government is proposing in any way places that in jeopardy.”