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Politics Today

New Vision For English Education

todayJuly 14, 2016 11

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The News Hour

On Monday the Synod heard plans to open another 125 schools by 2020, “To provide radically new approaches to how we function as a movement for education and train teachers and leaders to share that vision”.

Education is becoming increasingly fragmented. It is devolved to the four nations, each with their own particular characteristics.  Government plans for academisation will remove education from local authority control, making SACREs (Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education)  redundant. As a result, schools will be managed by head teachers reporting to their sponsoring boards within general policies set by the Department of Education and legislation. In this context the Church sees a need to set out a new vision so that pupils, parents, schools and teachers know what the Church is providing in its schools. It was described by the Churches Director of Education as one that will serve the whole community. The new Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership which opens in the autumn will be underpinned by this vision and will provide networks, training and research to equip leaders to continue to play a vital role in education in this new phase.

These plans have been condemned by the British Humanist Association as being “Out of step with the beliefs of the population and the wishes of the vast majority of parents”. They dismiss them as a cynical attempt to ‘stop the rot’ of falling numbers in the churches by evangelising children and expecting parents to attend church to ensure that their children will be given places in church schools. They seem unaware that parents do this because church schools are the ones they most want for their children. Of course education is not evangelism and any attempt to use lessons for that purpose would be wrong.

So too would selection solely on religious grounds, but the Church’s commitment to inclusively serve the whole community says that is not its aim. Religious education is compulsory in all schools and Ofsted inspectors are required to ensure that schools provide a broad and balanced curriculum. If they find evidence this is not happening, as they did in an Islamic school in Birmingham, their report can lead to the removal of the governing body and even the closure of the school. Every school must have a complaints procedure so parents unhappy with what a school is teaching can use that and they have the right to withdraw their children from RE classes. These are surely sufficient safeguards. The truth is that the BHA (British Humanist Association) opposes all faith schools and wants religion driven out of the public square altogether.

So long as these new schools can be adequately financed, the new vision is to be welcomed. In an increasingly multi-faith society with tragic examples of extremism and conflict the need for a broad and balanced education for all children is very real. Prayer for those who teach and lead these schools is an obvious priority. 

Written by: Miriam Emenike

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