Faith in School?
The Church of England has been in the headlines again over the week-end. It was not just about the Archbishop’s Easter sermon or arrangement for the up-coming Royal wedding. It was about church schools. The Rt Rev John Pritchard who is the chair of the board of education has urged head teachers limit places to practising Anglicans to only 10%.
The situation at the moment is that if a state-funded church school is oversubscribed it can bring in among its criteria the religious attendance of parents. Those church schools that have places, have to accept those pupils who apply. This sparked an interesting conversation on Mumsnet
Among the questions being asked was why would non-believers want their children educated in an atmosphere that supports a particular faith? There are lots of examples around where parents are becoming members of congregations in order to be able to send their children to particular schools. Their motivation has nothing to do with sudden conversion but about a desire for a place in THAT school.
So, one has to assume that there is a perception that church schools are better than those without a distinctive faith ethos.
When I was a head teacher I had one church school near me. It was in the centre of a very deprived area. As you drove to it, many of the shops were boarded up and covered in graffittii. However once you went inside, it was like an oasis. The atmosphere was very calming. The displays on the walls exquisite and yes, their results were the best in the area.
How do these two opposite pictures stand together? Many of the children who lived locally did not attend the school as they were not of that faith. The school was always oversubscribed with many of the children coming quite a distance. To find out what the difference is that makes the difference one has to look at the expectations of the school and parents.
Attending church brings a certain type of behaviour. Children are expected to be able to sit and listen whether it is during a service or Sunday school. Parents are expected to instil a certain level of respectfulness in their children. The Christian teaching also encourages compassion and concern for each other. When these beliefs are transferred to the classroom, it means that learning can often take place much sooner than in those school where staff have work on behaviour expectations to create an atmosphere where learning can flourish.
Changing the admissions to church schools and increasing the number of children who do not bring these expectations will bring changes to the schools ethos. It won’t happen immediately but gradually over time. Many comments on the Mumsnet site say that this is of concern. Surely we want our society to be more equal, with opportunities available for all? Do schools with different distinctive flavours give greater choice for specialism or restrict choice? Do other faiths feel they need to extend their particular approach to schooling to non-believers or do they want to remain special?
If all schools were of equal standard, would these differences matter?