THE Government should commit long-term funding to improve the schools system, including investment in special educational needs and teacher-retainment, the Church’s National Society for education argues in a new paper.
The document, Our Hope for a Flourishing Schools System: Deeply Christian, Serving the Common Good, was published on Friday. It builds on the recommendations of the Church’s last education paper in 2016: Vision for Education (News, 15 July 2016).
Our Hope says that purpose, relationships, learning, resources, and well-being within the schools system can all contribute to “flourishing” children.
Despite the recent withdrawing of the Schools Bill (News, 9 December 2022), which attempted to set out a path for full academisation by 2030, the Society insists that the current Government has “a desire to shape the school system for the future.
“As different ideas for that system will now be debated and discussed in the lead up to a general election, we are re-affirming our vision for the next season of the education sector’s journey, which with its mixed economy of school types and partnerships risks being inherently fragmented.”
Its paper makes ten recommendations to government leaders. First, to create “a once-in-a-generation re-imagination of SEND [special educational needs and disabilities] funding, provision, training and development” and to provide long-term funding and research for regional and national mental-health support for children.
It also asks that government ministers “reduce anxiety” in the schools system by creating structures and processes for teachers and leaders “which release genuine professional autonomy, trust, agency and support”. Furthermore, “courageous systemic changes to workload, pay, conditions and accountability” are needed “to ensure that teaching is again regarded as a vocation” to be committed to in the long-term.
The inspection of schools is also raised — an issue highlighted by the recent death of a head teacher, Ruth Perry, which, her family claimed, was a “direct result” of the pressure put on her by an Ofsted inspection which downgraded her school from “outstanding” to “inadequate” (Features, 9 June, (Comment, 24 March). The Society calls for “compassionate accountability” in changing both how schools are inspected and assessed and how their performance is measured against other schools.
The paper suggests that the curriculum needs updating: it asks the Government to make it broader with a better balance of “academic, technical and vocational pathways” with a good understanding of religious literacy.
On the move towards academisation, it calls for investment in multi-academy trusts (MATs) and the training and development of MAT leaders.
More generally, the Society asks the Government to “co-develop wise, pragmatic and well-funded partnership solutions” with diocesan boards of education (DBE) and to “further deepen the mutual partnership between church and state”.
In turn, diocesan leaders are asked to offer pastoral and well-being support, coaching, and mentoring to school leaders; improve RE and collective worship; work towards an “ambitious and pragmatic approach” to the sustainability of church schools; attract, recruit, train, and retain governance leaders; and, finally, to put education at the heart of diocesan mission, and children at the centre of diocesan vision and strategy.
Diversifying and increasing the pool of teachers, especially younger professionals, and alleviating “negative pressures on work-life balance” for all staff are among the six recommendations for school leaders. School-trust leaders are also given six recommendations, including to collaborate better with other school trusts; to celebrate diversity and inclusion; to prioritise the “spiritual/moral/ social/cultural” character of the trust; and to support high-needs and smaller schools.
In a foreword to the report, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who is the lead bishop for education, writes: “There are suggestions for school leaders, school trust leaders, diocesan leaders and government leaders.
“However, we also recognise the National Society and Church of England’s own need to change, adapt and respond ever more effectively to the society we seek to serve. We look forward to this happening through ongoing and deepening partnerships, both within the Church of England, with fellow Christians, other faith traditions, and across the wider education sector.”
In an article published in the TES on Friday, the Church’s Chief Education Officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, writes: “The partnership between church and state is a vital part of the educational landscape and we will continue to work proactively with the government to shape policy in these areas, bringing the insights of dioceses and school leaders from across the country.”
He added that the “language of hope is not merely wishful thinking or an optimistic outlook. Rather, Christian hope in uncertain times offers a realistic evaluation of the present and energises us towards a future that does not yet exist. This new document offers intentional and transformational hope for a resilient school system fully focused on the flourishing of children and adults.”
Mr Genders later told the Church Times: “The launch event of this report included an interview with Baroness Barran and Stephen Morgan in which both said how important they thought it was to work with the Church of England as the school system is shaped for the future. We look forward to that continued partnership and relationship into the future.”