SCHOOLS and dioceses in the Church of England have been active in bidding for free schools in recent years, but we recognise that the shape of the programme is likely to shift in order to enable government to deliver its own new policies and priorities.
In the Church of England’s vision for education, published last year, we are clear that we must promote an excellent education for all children and young people; so we would like to have a stronger presence in technical education, and more dedicated provision for children with disabilities and special needs. These are the areas we hope to develop in 2017.
Opening new church specialist schools, or new Alternative Provision (previously Pupil Referral Units or PRUs), however, is not possible, because the law prevents it. It is possible, though, to open new special schools with a Church of England ethos, and this has recently been done successfully by schools such as the St Marylebone School and St Mary Magdalene Academy, both in the diocese of London.
Special education takes many forms: it includes provision for the deaf, those with autism, and other learning difficulties, and those with severe physical disabilities. It is a specialised area in every sense, and we are researching where the strengths needed can be found in our network, and considering the possibilities for collaboration with local authorities.
ANOTHER area where we currently have only limited engagement is in technical education. We are looking at whether it would be possible to develop free schools focused on technical education as part of a mainstream academy trust, an approach that would draw on the strengths of the University Technical College model but operating within a wider school family. There is potential for using our existing connections with further-education colleges and the church universities as we develop proposals.
So we believe that the Church of England can now offer education to a wider group of children and young people. As we wait for the results of the consultation paper on the Education Bill, Schools that Work for Everyone, we are ready to take advantage of any new proposals the Government brings forward.