THE Church of England has no plans to open further grammar schools because they do not “meet the needs of all pupils” irrespective of background, intelligence, or wealth, its chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, has said.
Mr Genders told the Times Educational Supplement (TES) in an interview, last Friday: “We’ve been very clear that, because we think every child is important, we want to develop more schools that are meeting the needs of all pupils, irrespective of whether they’ve got high academic ability or not.
“How do we provide a school where there isn’t currently enough education for the children in the area, and meet the pupils’ needs? That’s our priority. And that means opening schools for the whole community. It’s about serving the needs of the many, not just the few.”
The C of E is the largest single provider of schools in the country, with 4600 schools, including 750 academies; three of these are also grammar schools.
Mr Genders later reflected in a Church House blog: “Education is not just for a few, nor just for the faithful. High-quality education should be available to all, and we continue to work to ensure that excellent provision is available everywhere for everyone.
“Our vision is for an education which refuses to make artificial choices between academic rigour and the well-being of pupils — their intellectual, spiritual, and emotional development — because we are unequivocal in our message that there is no such distinction: a good education promotes life in all its fullness.”
He was referring to a report, A Church of England Vision for Education: Deeply Christian, serving the common good, published last year by the Education Division (News, 15 July 2016). It was written in the expectation of a Green Paper from the Department for Education, which proposed to launch 500 free schools by 2020, and allow new faith schools to select up to 100 per cent of pupils based on their faith (News, 16 September).
The Prime Minister told MPs that the Government would offer up to £50 million a year to support the expansion of existing “good” or “outstanding” grammar schools, on the understanding that they select pupils of all backgrounds, and fairly.
But the Church was sticking with its plan to open 125 free schools by 2020 — more than a quarter of the total number planned for the next three years — none of which would be grammars, Mr Genders said. “Grammar schools are often the talking-point, and we do have three.
“But, in bidding for new free schools, we are putting our emphasis on exploring what more we can do for those who need outstanding special education, or alternative provision, and those who so often get left behind by society, as well as those who should have access to education which develops their vocational or technical skills, as an equal priority to the development of highly academic skills.”
Mr Genders, a former school chaplain, also told the TES that all schools would benefit from having a chaplain on the staff for pastoral support. “I wouldn’t want to draw a straight line between counselling service and chaplain, because it is a different approach. But the students talking to me knew that it wasn’t part of their report, that it wasn’t going to go back to their head of year. That feels important in this area of work — that you’re a neutral voice; you aren’t there as someone who is going to tell the teacher.”
Church schools also prioritise child development over their potential for economic prosperity, he said. “They also need to learn how to love their neighbour, and how to serve their community, and how to develop those dimensions of their character.”
Schools opt out of Christian worship. More than 40 schools in England have requested to opt out from the legal requirement to provide a daily act of worship that is “wholly or mainly” of a Christian character, in favour of a “no-faith” or multifaith alternative, the education newspaper Schools Week reports.
Schools Week had previously reported that about 125 schools had sought exemptions in the three years to 2015. But Freedom of Information responses from 101 councils, published on Sunday, showed that two schools had specifically asked to hold “no-faith” assemblies, while 44 others had requested, and were permitted to hold, multifaith assemblies, in the past 18 months.
Mr Genders told Schools Week that collective worship remained a “powerful tool” for togetherness, and that the number of parents choosing to send their children to church schools showed an acceptance of the daily worship on offer.
OFSTED ceased to inspect daily collective worship in 2004, after 76 per cent of schools were found not to be upholding the rule.