THE outcome of the General Election will certainly result in changes to the education landscape in England, and the relationship between the Church and the Government will undoubtedly change as a consequence.
At the top of the agenda are funding and the effects of the proposed National Funding Formula. Many church schools are small schools, predominantly, but not exclusively, in rural areas; there are also one-form-entry church primary schools in many urban areas. Both are under threat: many in rural areas will actually lose funds under the proposed new formula.
With the general pressures on school budgets modified only by increasing numbers of pupils, many small schools face an uncertain future. We have already seen calls for parent donations, in what is the most severe squeeze on all school budgets since the early 1980s. In view of likely closures and amalgamations, maintaining the part played by the Church won’t be easy.
Another concern is the coming drive to selective secondary education. While funding issues will be present regardless of which party forms the government, the reintroduction of grammar schools is a Conservative policy opposed by all the other mainstream political parties.
The Church of England has three remaining C of E grammar schools, but says that it has no intention of opening more. Its chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, has insisted repeatedly: “Our schools are for the many, not for the few.” But that view may not hold if the Roman Catholic Church creates a network of grammars.
The C of E’s stance is similar to that taken by the Wesleyan Methodists when faced by the Balfour Education Act of 1902. Methodist teachers were teachers of children, not of Methodists, the Church said. But this will be a tricky area for the national Church to navigate. Unwilling itself to provide grammar schools, will it tell church primary schools not to prepare pupils for selection tests? Or will they be expected to teach to the tests, aware that some pupils receive extra help at the expense of others?
Overall, the school sector will have to cope with the challenge of more pupils with less money throughout the life of the next Parliament. Although church schools remain popular with parents, there is little evidence that any political party will treat them more favourably than other schools over the next five years, whatever the outcome of the election.
Professor John Howson is the chairman of TeachVac.