ABOUT 15 million people alive in the country today went to a Church of England school. We now educate one million pupils every day, in a quarter of all primary schools and more than 200 secondary schools. We educate children from Christian families, and those of other faiths, as well as those of no faith. Our aim is for each child to have a life-enhancing encounter with Jesus, through daily collective worship and being nurtured in a community that is founded on Christian principles.
Our first schools were built to offer education based on the teachings of the Church of England, with the belief that moral and spiritual education was as important to children as learning skills or a trade.
Today, our report Vision for Education: Deeply Christian, serving the common good (General Synod, 15 July 2016) offers a clear purpose: to provide an education that will allow young people to develop “life in all its fullness” in their intellectual abilities, their emotional life, their moral sense, and their spiritual life.
Last year, after regional and national conferences in which we connected with more than 400 school leaders, we presented our report Leadership of Character Education. We believe that this style of education, which the report defined as “the cultivation and encouragement of an expansive range of moral, spiritual, intellectual, civic, and performance character virtues”, and is often caught implicitly through role-modelling and relationship, will equip young people to grow in wisdom, hope, community, and dignity.
Across the country, virtues rooted in the Christian faith are being taught, demonstrated, and celebrated. At St Hild’s C of E School, Hartlepool, pupils who demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit are presented with awards known as FOSCAS (Fruit of the Spirit Character Awards). At Shaldon Primary School, in Devon, an intergenerational programme has been created, forging connections between the Year-6 pupils (aged 10-11) and older members of the local community who may feel isolated. It teaches love and neighbourliness.
We talk of flourishing at a time when the pressures of life are great and our children are increasingly unhappy (News, 22 September 2017). The education that we offer, which builds and supports both the individual and the community, is a critical part of our calling as the Church to serve our nation and fulfil the gospel imperative.
Church of England clergy in the UK dedicate a million hours every year to working with children and young people in schools. Assemblies and social-action projects are just some of the ways in which relationships between church and school are made and strengthened.
Some will see our purpose as simply drawing young people to church on a Sunday, but our service to the nation goes beyond that. It lies in offering both a Christian education to whole communities, regardless of faith, and an outstanding education — and the life-changing opportunities that come with it — to all who seek it.
A challenge today is how to ensure that communities that currently do not have access to a church school can be offered that choice. While our plans to open new schools are more modest than our pioneering predecessors’ (News, 21 July), last year we had 31 new free schools either open or “pre-open”. Dioceses are ready to bid for 48 in the next wave, and are exploring the possibility of 53 more.
Hundreds of years after the first church schools were pioneered, we mean to continue to fulfil this Christian vision to provide an education that enables life in all its fullness.
The Revd Nigel Genders is the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer.