State schooling 150 years on, and the condition of RE
From Dr Robin C. Richmond
Sir, — Professor John Howson reminds us that 2020 marks 150 years of state schooling since the passing of the landmark 1870 Elementary Education Act entitling all children to a basic free education: “Not the party we expected” (Education, 25 September). Covid difficulties aside, sadly the moral and ethical obligations that led to the 1870 Act and the subsequent ground-breaking 1944 Education Act are now subordinate to market forces.
In recent years, in England there has been a shift in national education policy which has some of the hallmarks of the situation before 1870. For example, new schools, known as “free” schools can be provided only by self-interested independent sponsors. The Church has opened some. After the 1980 Academies Act, some 70 per cent of secondary schools and 33 per cent of primary schools are now quasi-private assets, in which the buildings and the land are now in the ownership of individually appointed school governing bodies or trustees.
The system created has many of the features of a free market in which competition between schools thrives. The Church is a player in this market. Some schools or academies, as they are now called, have joined together to form multi-academy trusts or federations, some sponsored by business tycoons as well as charities. Church schools have been forced back to greater reliance for management support and advice to dioceses, which, in turn, have had no choice but to create diocesan academy trusts.
In this competitive market in which education is now a commodity, most church schools are generally perceived as a luxury brand and sought after by parents with the sharpest elbows. Dioceses do provide some state schooling in disadvantaged areas, but generally, in this free-for-all in state education, the losers are the very disadvantaged communities that many church schools were established to serve.
Consequentially, 150 years on, marketisation has fragmented state schooling, increased inequality, seriously disadvantaged children with special learning difficulties, and has made it, as never before, a definitive guide to the most pleasant and prosperous places to live in England.
ROBIN C. RICHMOND
The Downs, Bromyard
Herefordshire HR7 4NY
From Mr Greg Warren
Sir, — In the review of Mark Chater’s Reforming RE (Education, 25 September), the author is quoted as saying that the present approach to religious education is unsustainable in a society in which 70 per cent of young people now identify as non-religious. I would be interested to know what percentage of young people “identify” as mathematicians, physicists, geographers, historians, or, indeed, book-lovers.
Are we reduced to saying “Give the children what they want,” or can we still decide for them what they ought to have? I should have thought that 70 per cent of young people identifying as non-religious was the best imperative you could have for doing RE. The review goes on to state that, in Chater’s opinion, the subject should be expanded to become Religion and World Views.
I think this is an excellent idea. It would mean combining theology with philosophy, sociology, and anthropology. The only problem is that the subject would then require far more teaching time and a huge increase in staffing. Most RE departments are lucky to get a lesson a week with most classes, and, since Michael Gove pulled the rug from under the subject with his EBacc, the funding for training RE teachers has shrunk dramatically.
School curricula have become more and more crowded, and some subjects are getting squeezed. By all means, integrate RE into a new approach to humanities, but make sure that, in the process, religion does not get integrated out.
Norfolk House, Yew Tree Lane
Harrogate HG2 9JS
‘Profits and misery’ is a slur on developers
From Mr Simon Friend
Sir, — As a residential developer of some 25 years, and as a Christian attempting to follow Christ throughout my personal and business life, I found Canon Angela Tilby’s article and her generalised swipe at my profession as having no better aim than “to produce profits for the developers and misery for the residents” (Comment, 18 September) rather offensive.
I am not sure what Canon Tilby’s qualifications are to pronounce on such subjects. I do find it typical of the Church and some clergy that they delight in preaching at those of us trying to do our best in the world of property and finance or any business venture, but very rarely want to listen or, indeed, take the slightest interest in what we as members of their churches do.
Hardly ever, in my 40 years of churchgoing, has any cleric really engaged or been the slightest bit interested in my business activities — until, of course, it comes to taking a share of those “profits” for common fund, etc.
Just a few months ago, after eight years’ work (all outgoings and risk, by the way, and no hope of any profit for another five years at least) and just getting to the stage of being able to submit a planning application for a £20-million regeneration project for a slightly run-down coastal town needing a boost, I wrote to my diocese in the naïve excitement of the moment, thinking that they might be interested in what Readers and General Synod lay members got up to during the working week. I got the response: “Not quite sure what that has to do with the diocese.”
On one level, this is fair enough, but it does show that, like your columnist, the Church loves to pronounce, but very rarely engages. Most of the clergy don’t stay in one place for longer than seven years at most, and they get paid for that. Many developers take huge risks over many years, as I have done, to bring regeneration, architectural flair, and many jobs to towns and cities.
Reader and General Synod member
Higher Mill, Thorverton
Exeter, Devon EX5 5LL
Worship and communion in the pandemic
From the Revd Anthony Appleby
Sir, — During the pandemic, I recommend distributing communion wafers with tongs such as used to be used for sugar lumps, or a pair of tweezers. They can be sanitised more easily than “the seven steps involved in hand-washing” referred to in the retired nurse’s letter (25 September). From the point of view of hygiene, there is much to be said for their being used also after the pandemic.
19 Albatross Road
Exeter EX2 7SB
From the Revd Nigel Warner
Sir, — Michael Winterbottom (Letters, 25 September) is right: the Church of England never explicitly repudiated the doctrine of concomitance. But this is surely because the doctrine was a medieval Western concoction to justify the withholding of the chalice from the laity, and from 1549 such denial has not been our practice.
At that point, the doctrine of concomitance became redundant. The Eastern Churches never accepted it; the Reformed Churches never accepted it; Keble and Pusey, I understand, never accepted it.
If the doctrine were true, it would justify the withholding of the chalice for ever. There is real loss and real pain when the cup of blessing is not shared. Let us not pretend otherwise.
47 Wydon Park, Hexham
Northumberland NE46 2DA
From Canon Richard Heading
Sir, — Michaelmas last, bus pass in hand, I journeyed from Mirfield to all parishes in which I had served, and was able to join sisters and brothers as they met to break bread and share the cup. Marking a golden jubilee in that way was, I believe, in part prompted by the Spirit, even if driven by nostalgia and a desire to raise funds for USPG. This Michaelmas, communion is offered in one kind with its strong and engaging echoes of the Good Friday liturgy and the divine self-emptying sacrifice.
Whether prompted by the Spirit, or through misguided inner reasoning, I have as yet chosen to share in the liturgy as if it was a non-communicating mass, telling myself that the present strange circumstances provide an opportunity for solidarity with those Christian communities and individuals in many parts of the globe where priests are seen but rarely, as indeed in these lands at times.
I tentatively offer these thoughts, trying as I am to enliven a practice of spiritual communion.
18 Timberdine Avenue
Worcester WR5 2BD
From Mrs Lavender Buckland
Sir, — Wearing masks in church, we are permitted to speak, and to offer prayers and responses. Is there any good reason why we should not now also sing inside our masks? Our congregations have shrunk to ten-12, and there is every reason to lift people’s spirits by allowing quiet singing, when we are as widely spaced as we are.
17 Home Farm
Iwerne Minster DT11 8LB
Too much them and Us?
From Priscilla Bench-Capon
Sir, — I cannot be your only female reader to feel insulted by the stereotyping in the TV column about Us (25 September). “The eternal disjunction between the ways in which most men and most women see the world” is an outdated and discredited idea, unworthy of a Church that proclaims “no male and female” in Christ.
Many of your readers have served as PCC secretaries, churchwardens, and parish administrators, and, yes, we make lists, plan ahead, keep records, and organise. I identify far more with Douglas than with Connie.
73 Hilbre Road, West Kirby
Wirral CH48 3HB
National call to prayer
From the Rt Revd Graham and Mrs Dow
Sir, — Are we alone in longing for a call to prayer for the nation and for the world? The daily lectionary this morning (as we write) took us, in 1 Kings 8, to Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple. Might our bishops, at this time, give such a lead to our Church and nation?
GRAHAM DOW, MOLLY DOW
34 Kimberley Avenue
Romiley, Stockport SK6 4AB
PM’s photo misses an opportunity
From Mr Ian Richards
Sir, — The efforts of the Jenner Institute to understand more about the SARS COV-2 virus and to provide us all with a vaccine are laudable and to be celebrated. Unfortunately, the photograph of the Prime Minister (front page, 25 September) is not.
The laboratory coat that he is wearing is not closed. This lack of compliance with the basic rules of laboratory safety and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is inappropriate. In the current circumstances, leaders need to set an example. If everyone similarly overlooks rules around Covid-19, we have no chance of suppressing the spread of the disease.
70 Newmarket Road, Burwell
Cambridgeshire CB25 0AE