IN SOME respects, the education sector is like a super-tanker. Once a decision is made, it takes a long time to change course. So the full effects of some of the sweeping changes introduced by Michael Gove during his time in charge of the nation’s schools are only now being seen. Mr Gove was not responsible for either further or higher education, both in the remit of the Business Secretary, but the results of his influence on the schools system is unavoidable.
A crucial area for all schools, but one where the Churches can, and should, take action, is teacher supply. I have warned before in these pages about the indications of a coming teacher shortage. Now, although the Government is firmly of the opinion — in public at least — that there isn’t a problem, many schools are already reporting a different state of affairs.
Because the school population is expected to increase by half a million over the next five years — a prediction the Government does not dispute — the teaching force will have to increase significantly. This aim will not be helped by a seven-per-cent drop this year in the numbers applying for teacher training.
Undoubtedly, schools that are not part of the Schools Direct or Teach First programmes will struggle to recruit teachers in some subjects, including Religious Education. Vocational subjects such as design and technology, and business studies, which may be important for wealth-generation areas of the economy, are also likely to be affected, and these are areas particularly important to the majority of pupils: those destined to proceed directly from school to university.
RECRUITMENT difficulties may affect school performance. Dioceses, now responsible for the success and failure of their church schools, will have to pay special attention to those schools where recruitment is a challenge. A look at the recent GCSE results of church schools in London, including the numbers achieving five A* to C grades, including English and maths, showed that more schools were performing less well in 2015 than in the previous year. For most of them, this was a drop of only one or two per cent, but, in a few cases, the decline appeared to be greater.
Government policy means that schools must take more responsibility for staffing their schools. But the Church of England — and the Roman Catholic Church, for that matter — have the means to influence greatly the number of teachers available to their schools. They could, in effect, develop their own pool of newly qualified teachers. This would mean a return to their position as teacher-providers, the position that existed before the 1970s, when a nationwide network of church colleges was disrupted by a new policy of placing teacher preparation alongside the rest of higher education.
The Church of England’s Education Office could harness within one network the initial teacher education that still exists in the church universities, the many Church of England teaching schools, and the growing number of diocesan schemes. This would probably need a central unit able to identify and plan for differing subject needs and for regional variations.
It would mean a high degree of co-operation, and minimum competition between the church university education departments and the school-based programmes. To achieve this would be hard, but the alternative is to risk leaving church schools at the mercy of a fragmented training system that does not take account of their needs. Visibly taking control might keep church staff-rooms full.