School reforms undermine RE

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Government reforms are eroding Christian values in schools, according to a new report by the Church of England.

In a major report, the CofE said that religious education was being marginalised in many schools because of reforms that put an increasing focus on learning facts and figures.

It criticised a decision to exclude RE from the English Baccalaureate and highlighted a decline in the number of new RE teachers being trained. Failure to consider RE in the current review of the National Curriculum was also having a damaging effect on the status of the subject, it was claimed.

Dr Priscilla Chadwick, a former private school headmistress and chairman of the CofE’s education inquiry, said: “The current curriculum reforms seem to be emphasising more the utilitarian purposes of education.
 
“The moral and the spiritual aspects of educating the whole person can be pushed to the back and be pushed to the side.”
 
The report calls for the establishment of a new generation of CofE schools, expanding the number beyond the current 4,800. The Church has already proposed creating another 200 within the next five years.
 
It also proposes developing new resources for the teaching of Christianity in all schools and creating a new curriculum for Anglican primaries and secondaries.
 
In a further recommendation, it suggests developing an action plan to help protect the future of small rural Church schools.

However, the conclusions were criticised by secular groups. Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “Public money should not be used to promote religion in this way and churches should not be able to hijack the school system as a means of proselytising among those who have no alternative but to be there.
 
“State schools should be for teaching, not preaching and certainly not for religious brainwashing, which appears to be what is being proposed here.”

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE said: "Unfortunately the report glosses over completely the need to make all state funded schools truly welcoming and suitable to all children of every background, no matter what their parents’ or their own beliefs. The report also fails to address the issue of religious segregation in schools, and the very damaging effects of this upon wider society."

Key improvements highlighted in the report include:

  • Church schools have always worked in partnership with local and central government, but in the future will have to include new and different partners. A commitment to partnership working at all levels and for all purposes is required, and must be based on clear outcomes, strongly held core values and the essential Christian ethos.
  • Partnerships between parishes and their local schools could be strengthened, which will facilitate shared use of premises and staff expertise to enhance the opportunities for children and young people in the community. The relationship between the incumbent and the church school is of critical importance, and this understanding must be incorporated into the training of clergy and the appointments of head teachers and clergy.
  • Small rural Church of England schools face additional challenges in the current environment. The Church, for example through a specific working group, needs urgently to advise heads and governors of appropriate ways forward.
  • Ecumenical collaboration in education, which is already well established with Methodists and Roman Catholics, could be further expanded where appropriate to provide strong Christian or multifaith schools.
  • Partnerships between maintained Church schools and independent schools with Anglican foundations could be significantly developed to mutual advantage within dioceses, enhanced by chaplaincy support and episcopal endorsement.
  • Free schools sponsored by parents or Christian groups could become affiliated to the diocesan family, as is already being seen with community schools wishing to enhance their Christian values and ethos.
School Leadership Today
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