Don’t fill schools with believers, Clarke warns

22 December 2016

Lambeth Palace

Guests: children from St Matthew’s Primary School, Westminster, visited Lambeth Palace earlier this month. Besides singing for the Archbishop, they helped to decorate his Christmas tree

Guests: children from St Matthew’s Primary School, Westminster, visited Lambeth Palace earlier this month. Besides singing for the Archbishop, t...

THE Government should revisit its proposals to allow new free schools with a religious designation to select 100 per cent of pupils on faith grounds, it was told last week. The former Secretary of State for Educa­tion Charles Clarke and Professor Linda Woodhead of Lan­caster University cautioned that pro­­­posals intended to tackle seg­rega­tion in schools could backfire and increase it.

Mr Clarke and Professor Wood­head, joint founders of the West­minster Faith Debates, who have argued that religious education has a crucial part to play in schools, include the warning in their res­ponse to the consultation on the Green Paper Schools that Work for Everyone, which ended on Monday of last week.

Their submission welcomes pro­posals to encourage inclusivity by twinning free schools of different faiths and obliging their governing bodies to include members from secular or other religious back­grounds. Wider integration could result from extending these rules to existing voluntary-aided schools and academies, they suggest. “I urge the Government to take this oppor­tunity to ensure that every faith school contributes strongly to the social cohesion of the communities of which they are part,” Mr Clarke said last week.

Breaking new ground, Mr Clarke and Professor Woodhead also argue that government policy should ac­­know­ledge the distinction be­­tween different types of faith school. They cite the difference between “most Cath­olic and some Jewish and Mus­lim which select on the basis of faith” and those that serve the whole community, i.e. “the majority of Church of England schools”. The latter do not need the same safe­guards as the former.

Moreover, the submission urges the Government to establish a com­pul­sory national syllabus for relig­ious education, at the same time rescinding parents’ right to remove their children from RE. “This is the best way to equip children from any faith or none with an understanding of religion and religious diversity.”

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Since the Green Paper was pub­lished in September, the Church of England’s Chief Education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, has insisted that any lifting of the 50-per-cent cap on faith school admissions would not affect C of E education policy. The C of E Education Of­fice’s official response to the con­sultation confirms that stance: “We would not encourage the develop­ment of new C of E schools with more than the current permitted level of selection on grounds of faith,” it says.

Parents of all faiths seek out C of E schools because such schools take faith seriously, the submission con­tinues. “While Christian in ethos, our schools promote healthy con­ver­sations about faith, cultural differ­ence and diversity.”

Responding to a consultation question about possible sanctions that could be applied to faith schools that failed to promote diversity, the submission warns that the injudicious use of sanctions could have a negative effect.

 

Small church schools shine in league tables. SMALL Church of England primary schools were among the highest scorers in the 2016 Standard Assess­ment Test (SATs) taken by Year 6 pupils at more than 13,000 schools in England. The results were pub­lished last week.

The 100-pupil Temple Grafton C of E Primary School, in Alcester, Warwickshire, topped a league table based on an analysis of the results by The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Five other C of E schools were in the top ten. They were Hockering, Norfolk; Combe, Oxfordshire; Stis­ted, Essex; Heversham, Cumbria; and St Mary’s and All Saints’, Beacons­field, Berk­shire.

This year’s tests, widely judged to be tougher than previously, were the first to be based on the more de­­manding curriculum in English and Maths introduced in 2014. All the eligible 13 pupils at Temple Grafton reached the expected standard, and 46 per cent exceeded it. Results in other top ten schools were similar.

This year, however, in addition to raw test-scores, a further measure — that of progress made by individual pupils — was taken into account in assessing overall school perform­ance. The result of the change was that many schools rose or fell in their local-authority performance tables.

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