200 years of Church Schools

200th Anniversary of National Society

2011 marks the 200th Anniversary of the National Society, the body which established Church schools. 2011 is also the year when a new Education Bill will be presented in Parliament. It is the most radical Education Bill since the 1944 Education Act. Like many I have watched the unfolding of the new Education Act and other policies affecting children and have been pondering and praying. Below are my personal reflections and questions.

Who should the Church be seeking to serve in its church schools?

The National Society and our church schools were founded primarily with a real concern for the education of the poor. They initially served the local communities in which they were situated and were indeed schools for the community. Although they came from the Anglican stable, and this is reflected in many Trust Deeds, their mission was to educate all the children of the local area, they were neighbourhood schools. They were not primarily schools reserved exclusively for those of the Anglican faith and for much of my teaching career the percentage of committed Anglicans at these schools was probably close to the balance now being proposed by the Bishop of Oxford.(10%)

The National Society website states: ‘Church schools are established primarily for the communities they are located in. They are inclusive and serve equally those who are of the Christian faith, those of other faiths and those with no faith’. They were, and are, also schools which provide remarkable pastoral care of children with special needs and are frequently beacons of community cohesion in both inner city and rural areas.

Sadly, the introduction of parental choice and the availability of League Tables has altered this scenario. It opened the possibility for parents with the ability to access information, an understanding of the Admissions procedure and with transport resources to take their children to the school of their choice. It has had the, perhaps unintended, result of removing articulate parents from some schools and leaving some schools in challenging situations with an unbalanced intake.  It has probably impacted in a detrimental way against those children in poorer areas who have nobody to speak up for them. Choice has not necessarily meant choice for everyone and data information has not necessarily provided depth of wisdom or understanding.

The Present Challenge.

The second wave of Academies has enabled direct funding from Government for some existing (good/outstanding) schools or for the establishment of new schools. However this has meant that there will be reductions in the public monies available to Local Authorities. If sufficient schools choose to become Academies or enough sponsors take up the option of establishing ‘free schools’  the LA ‘s may no longer have a viable core and crucially the LA would not have sufficient funds to run the advisory services currently available to all schools. This would mean that schools would have to source these services from a growing plethora of consultancies with the added task of sourcing ‘best value for money’. The need for these consultancies to be profit making could have particular effects on the provision of services which do not make an easy profit eg Special Education Needs and Governor Training. There is the option that Dioceses may undertake some of this role and Dioceses already provide some Advisory services.

In addition parents, charities, community groups or teachers are permitted to apply to start a ‘free’ school. It seems that so far applications to establish ‘free’ schools are predominantly in richer areas where the pupils may already be advantaged and with attainments above average.

The current situation seems to present moral and ethical questions for the National Society and Boards of Education. As a church involved in education:

  • How do we ensure that in looking after those in our care in Church schools we do not unintentionally harm the provision for children outside our immediate care, particularly the poor and disadvantaged?
  •  If we encourage Church Schools to go down the Academy route can we ensure that the Dioceses or other consultants will be able to offer the level of support presently coming from Local Authorities at a cost schools can afford?  Where will the long term funding for this come from?
  •  The Bill in its present form seems to be encouraging a much more competitive market driven style of educational provision. What happens to those pupils who through disability, location or lack of support, are unable to compete and what responsibility do we have for them?
  •  Are we confident that we have in place Governing bodies (and crucially people equipped and willing to take on these roles in the future) who are able to discharge the additional responsibilities which the Academy status may entail?
  •  In today’s political climate it is essential for children to understand major world faiths. How can we ensure that RE retains a central place in the curriculum of all schools?
  •  With the governance of schools changing how will the distinctive Christian ethos and the place of worship be safe guarded in Church schools and the place of spirituality ensured in all schools?

The mission of the Church is that we portray a God of love and hope and enable people to have life and live it abundantly. What vision of the Church are we giving if we, even with the very best of motives, collude with an educational policy which does not have at its centre a commitment to the poor and disadvantaged?

What can you do?

Pray that those with responsibilities for this legislation will be wise in choosing the  path of the bill and alert to possible unintended consequences.

Petition your local MP to put the needs of children, particularly the marginalised and disadvantaged, at the centre of the legislation and to  protect RE as part of the core curriculum for all schools.

Persevere in listening to your school and supporting them in whatever ways they need.

Jill Fuller. Summer 2011

Please click on the links for more information on 200 years of Church Schools.

The National Society's website
Giving our Children a future (Salisbury Diocesan presentation)