Challenging Religious Faith – Challenging Faith Schools
The Church of England’s Education Project
Historically (pre-1944) the Church of England held a virtual monopoly as education provider, and it still enjoys a major role in education in “partnership” with the state under the “duel system” of maintained schools. But, with maintained schools now converting to academies (state-funded independent schools) in droves and new academies (free schools) being established, the Church of England sees an opportunity to renew and reinvent its historic role.
Traditionally, that role has been undertaken by the National Society for the Promotion of the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church. In a major publication (jointly with the Archbishop’s Council, Education Division) “The Church School of the Future – Review” (March 2012), it sets out the Church of England’s new education project:-
The Church of England clearly reaffirms that Church schools stand at the centre of its mission. It educates approximately 1 million of the nation’s children in primary and secondary schools, which enables more direct engagement with children and their families than any other contact, including regular Sunday worship.
And the main instruments of this “direct engagement” are religious education (RE) and collective worship:-
High-quality religious education (RE) and collective worship should continue to make major contributions to the Church school’s Christian ethos, to allow pupils to engage seriously with and develop an understanding of the person and teachings of Jesus Christ.
As Atheism UK distinguished supporter Darrel Ray puts it:-
Religions simply do not give up. They modify and mutate. They do whatever it takes to keep the virus alive and viable in a changing environment.
The virus here is, of course, the Anglican strain of the God Virus, otherwise known as religious faith. It inhabits people’s minds and replicates by propagating from mind to mind. That propagation may be vertical (parent-child indoctrination) or horizontal (evangelism). Uniquely, education provides a sophisticated and potent mix of both.
The vocation or calling of a religious organization, especially a Christian one, to go out into the world and spread its faith.
For “the Church of England’s mission”, read “propagation of the God Virus”. No wonder Church schools stand at the centre of it, enabling more direct engagement, with parents and children, than any other contact. The Church of England is doing whatever it takes to keep the God Virus alive and viable in a changing education environment.
But The Church School of the Future admits a weakness in the project:-
Admissions arrangements continue to be contentious, with renewed attacks on the principle of foundation places (reserved for children of Church families) from parties hostile to Church schools. The academies are committed to serving their immediate neighbourhood, and only a small number have foundation places.
The Admissions Code (which applies to maintained schools) provides:-
Faith schools are required to offer every child who applies, whether of the faith, another faith or no faith, a place at the school if there are places available. Faith schools may use faith-based oversubscription criteria and allocate places by reference to faith where the school is oversubscribed.
And faith-based oversubscription criteria are even less favoured in new academies (which the Church of England has in its sights):-
Funding Agreements for entirely new Academies (i.e. not convertors from the maintained or independent sectors, or those sponsored Academies with a predecessor school) and Free Schools with a religious character provide that where the school is oversubscribed at least 50% of places are to be allocated without reference to faith.
Most parents, who send their children to a Church of England school, do so not because it is a Church of England school but because it is a local school which happens to be Church of England. They, and their children, are not necessarily people of faith. While they may be the targets of the Church of England’s mission (propagation of the God Virus), they are the natural allies of “parties hostile to Church schools” – parties who challenge religious faith.