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Church in Wales Governing Body: Closer ties offer new possibilities for education  

28 April 2023

Dave Custance

Canon Nigel Genders, the C of E’s Chief Education Officer and General Secretary of the National Society, spoke on the collaboration between the Society and the Church in Wales

Canon Nigel Genders, the C of E’s Chief Education Officer and General Secretary of the National Society, spoke on the collaboration between the Societ...

BROAD-RANGING discussions on education celebrated the Church in Wales’s new partnership with the National Society — a deepening relationship both with the Society and the Church of England, which the Rt Revd Mary Stallard, in her first appearance as the confirmed Bishop of Llandaff (News, 27 January), hoped would offer new opportunities and possibilities: “An opportunity to showcase the great work happening in Welsh education on a wider stage.”

The Provincial Director of Education for the Church in Wales, Elizabeth Thomas, welcomed the proposals, especially as they related to developing leaders. She commended the extension into a Welsh context of the Archbishops’ Youth Leaders Awards, which, under the auspices of the National Society, focused on empowering young people. Leadership skills are developed through a series of interacting activities and personal and whole-class challenges.

Colleges in Wales are also piloting programmes of the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership. “It is all to do with shaping policy and guiding principles in changing educational times, as education moves into a new and a grassroots-upwards approach,” she said.

“The challenge of growing a younger church must involve the schools. A new and reinvigorated focus on children and young people is vital — clearly articulated and understood by all, and central to the mission of the Church in Wales.”

The C of E’s chief education officer, and General Secretary of the National Society, Canon Nigel Genders, warmly welcomed the collaboration between the Society and the Church in Wales. The Society had a “strategic and light-touch governance approach in the way it does things”, he suggested. A central question for the Church was how to connect and minister in the intersection between church, school, and households, where the children were.

His colleague, the executive director of education, Andy Wolfe, said that he already felt a deep sense of partnership, and was keen to emphasise that the C of E had as much to learn from the Church in Wales as vice versa. He was excited by Wales’s new curriculum, which he described as “rich, diverse, ambitious, and future-focused”.

Mr Wolfe was a co-author, with Professor David Ford, of the document “Called, Connected, Committed: A theological underpinning of the vision for Christian education”. He expressed concern that, in matters of diversity, only one per cent of schools in England were led by head teachers from a non-white background. The target was ten per cent by 2027.

He spoke of the C of E’s Growing Faith Foundation in the context of the target of 450 worshipping communities in schools and colleges by 2030, to be led by 4500 leaders — the majority lay, and with a key place for younger leaders. “That community is already there, based in school,” he said. “But it needs a paradigm shift. Unless there is a major change, we won’t get a major change.”

Questions and comments followed. The Dean of Newport, the Very Revd Ian Black (Monmouth), wanted to pin down the question, “How do we get bright young graduates to want to work in a church school?”

The Revd James Henley (Monmouth) has four Church in Wales primary schools and one high school in his ministry area. He was committed to placing schools at the very heart of its common life, but felt that the presentations did not really approach some of the huge challenges that they were facing, such as the cost-of-living and mental-health crises, and staffing problems, without proper resourcing.

“They are trying to fill gaps left in dangerously underfunded public services, which has an impact on the poorest children. I am in awe of staff responding to these issues,” he said, emphasising the importance of credibility. “We have to see and hear the challenges our church leaders are facing, not just in lip service but with urgency. Surely this is what it would truly mean to place children and young people at the heart of our mission to the world?”

Ian Loynd (Monmouth), head teacher of one of the 146 church schools, welcomed commitment to genuine partnership. “The Welsh government has realised that a purpose-driven curriculum is good for kids. It’s now or never,” he said.

“This is a very time-limited chance for the next few generations to innovate and muscle our way in to have a bigger voice round the table. . . We have to put our money where our mouth is. If education is to be central to the mission of the Church in Wales, it is something we should be spreading around.

“Where are the children here, where are the voices here, and where are they in the discussions? Young people are concerned with mental health, sexuality, relationships, the cost of living crisis. . . This is where the mission of the Church is. This is all really, really good, but it is not sufficient”.

Hannah Rowan (co-opted) was concerned about non-church schools and areas with no church school within them. “Many teachers don’t have the capacity to give the Christian education in the RE curriculum,” she suggested, referring to one child’s question, “Is Jesus buried in your graveyard?” She asked, “How can we resource our ministry areas and clergy to engage in them theologically in a developmentally sound way?”

The Revd Kate O’Sullivan (Monmouth) recalled a good experience of the Church of England Youth Training Scheme entry, but their programmes were rather about “nice middle-class children doing OK”, she suggested. “Inclusion only happens when you deliberately seek out the most unlikely.”

Professor Medwin Hughes, who chairs the Representative Body, supported and welcomed the “excellent potential for engagement”. Now was the time to act, he suggested, with three years to a new government, and people already developing manifestos. He spoke of building relationships and professional capacity, focusing on co-production, “defining what it is to develop Church in Wales methodology, because it is different”.

“It really is important to build, invest, and develop capacity in our teachers and governors to play their role. Transforming education and transforming lives. We need to invest and work in partnership, to work for the common good together.”

Celine Cuddihy, a Pioneer Evangelist with the Church Army, worked on the impoverished Merlin’s Bridge estate with children from all kinds of backgrounds. They wouldn’t feel comfortable in a church, and wouldn’t darken the doors of one, she suggested, “but they trust the school and the head teacher, and they would go to anything put on in their school”.

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