Report seeks to protect Church schools and sets direction for next decade

Church schools are at the heart of the nation and should robustly assert their Christian ethos and foundation, according to recommendations included in a groundbreaking report published by the Church of England.

The Church, which is responsible for more than 4,800 schools across the country, educates more than a million pupils and schools are increasingly in the front line of its work in communities.

The report, The Church School of the Future, has taken evidence from dioceses, school leaders, politicians and other stakeholders with an interest in education. It will be launched today (Friday, March 23) at a conference at Lambeth Palace.

It says the challenge for all existing Church schools, and any new schools, is to maintain their distinctive Christian character in an increasingly fragmented education system and amid strong attacks from secularists.

And it warns against a ‘utilitarian’ approach to education where economic pressures risk forcing a narrow view of pupils’ ability to develop and learn both academically and spiritually.

While giving firm backing to the current Government’s drive to raise attainment, the report describes the administration’s approach to religious education as ‘disappointing’ and calls for a new strategy to improve teaching and learning in RE.

The Bishop of Oxford, who leads on education for the Church of England, said: “Our schools are a gift to the nation. They have been serving communities for more than 200 years and our schools are very popular with parents. But the report is clear that we must be careful to protect their distinctive nature, especially amid pressure from groups who would prefer that we were not involved in education at all.

“The entire educational landscape has shifted with many more types of school and different providers involved in a new market place. This is an opportunity and I would not be surprised to see at least 200 more Church schools developed in the next five years.” 

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams said: "This report marks the exceptional record of our Church schools in the last 200 years and charts the way forward in a fast-changing landscape. Universal free education in England began when the Church of England introduced schools in every parish - more than 50 years before the provision of state education. Two hundred years later, church schools continue to serve their communities, are popular with parents and they provide an inclusive education with a strong Christian ethos. It is important for the nation that we retain their distinctive character and we are working closely with Government to ensure they continue to thrive."

Dr Priscilla Chadwick, a former headteacher and chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, who chaired the review panel, said: “What came through very strongly when we were taking evidence is that we must as a Church reaffirm our mission in education and ensure we take a strategic approach to planning for the future.” 

The report sets out the Church’s mission in education and reaffirms the importance of the distinctiveness of the Church school ‘brand’. “The changes and challenges ahead must not compromise this brand” it says. 

The report also highlights the critical importance of religious education. It states: “High quality religious education and collective worship should continue to make major contributions to the Church school’s Christian ethos.”

The findings of the review point to an open approach to new forms of affiliation and partnership including the provision of support services, which fill the gap left by the reduction in the role traditionally played by local authorities. 

An urgent recommendation calls for a working group to be set up to look at the risks faced by small rural Church schools, in order to protect them as the traditional education structure fragments. 

The report also recommends a shake-up of the Church’s central education service, calling for ‘serious consideration’ of the need for a single Church of England education office – in effect bringing together the National Society, a trust which oversees Church of England schools, and the Archbishops’ Council Board of Education.

Rev Jan Ainsworth, Church of England Director of Education, welcomed the report. She said: “We need to ensure our organisation is geared towards supporting Church schools. The report recommends that the dioceses and the centre work together to strengthen the support we collectively provide to Church schools.”

The Church School of the Future Report 2012