Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Praise for the Church of England's inclusive schools policy

It is good to see the Church of England's inclusive schools policy being confirmed today. The BBC reports:

New Church of England schools should offer at least a quarter of places to pupils from outside the Christian faith, the government has been told.

The chairman of the Church's board of education, the Rt Rev Kenneth Stevenson, makes the pledge in a letter to Education Secretary Alan Johnson.

The Rt Rev Stevenson said:

Part of a school's Christian commitment is to reach out, to include, not with the purpose of indoctrination but in order to offer education clearly based on Christian values to the wider community.

This follows on from the Dearing report in 2001 which was endorsed by the church's General Synod. It specifically ruled out "bussing in" children from other areas to "exclusive" Church of England schools.

I am proud of this inclusive policy from the Church of England. It is right to have Church of England schools. It is right that they do not have a "purpose of indoctrination". It is also right to make them readily accessible to all children in the local community and to "reserve" a proportion of places for those outside the Christian faith.

Indeed, this policy of inclusiveness is already clear in some areas where some Church of England schools have a very high proportion of their pupils who are Muslims. For example, the DfES reports:

Sir John Cass Foundation School in inner London is a Church of England School, but has an 80 per cent Muslim intake. Its Ofsted report praised positive attitudes to learning and noted that respect for each other was central to its whole ethos.


  1. I suppose anything that reduces the blasphemous charade of people having to pretend to be christian in order to get their children into the local middle class school, is a good thing. Selection by parental dishonesty.

    Why shouldn't this principle apply to existing church schools, I wonder? With opposition to single-faith schools rising, are they just trying to take the heat off?

    I worry that all is not what it seems. I remember some cardinal being interviewed, welcoming all-comers to his Roman Catholic school. But when asked what he thought of children of Catholic parents going to a Sikh or Muslim school, he went rather quiet.

  2. I stand to be corrected Joe, but I thought that the existing Church Of England schools have a liberal, inclusive policy as this was the one agreed on in 2001 by the General Synod and you can see its effect in the Church of England school quoted which has 80% Muslim pupils. I believe there are similar examples in Church of England schools elsewhere, such as Bradford.

    I cannot answer for the Roman Catholic church. I am an Anglican, I wouldn't like to guess at their approach.

  3. Joe

    There is a summary of the Dearing report (the basis of the CofE General Synod decision of 2001) here:


    and the whole report is available here:


  4. That's rather a hostile summary you've chosen there!

    Yes, there are some very open church schools as well as some exclusive ones.

    Both are spreading the faith, but the latter are spreading it to parents by coercing them into church.

    I can see how this might be seen as a good thing by many. But not me. Wouldn't it be better to coerce parents into attending a variety of different faith establishments - to enhance interfaith understanding. Or how about not coercing them at all?

    I must say I do find the whole faith school thing baffling. It suggests only a weak commitment to the principle of freedom of religious conscience. How is a child supposed to make a free choice if they are taught Christianity - as mine are even in a non-church school - and only taught about other faiths as an afterthought. And only selected other faiths - monotheisms and occasionally Hinduism.

    Similarly - and this is not just a church schools issue - daily worship. What is all that about? Why encourage children to participate in rituals, repeat words, before they have considered whether they agree with and believe them? Read the contract before you sign!

    And daily? How many adults participate in organised worship every day? It's a big thing to ask, and a lot of educational time lost.

    I can understand the argument that none of this matters because Christianity is true and has to be spread, and that's the bottom line. But that doesn't seem to be a principled position consistent with the principle of freedom of religion.

  5. "That's rather a hostile summary you've chosen there!"

    Ah, that shows how open minded I am! ;-)

    "the latter are spreading it to parents by coercing them into church."

    Again, I am trying to restrict my comments to Church of England schools and I am not sure coercion is widespread in CofE schools. (The boot may be on the other foot where ambitious parents want their kids to go to school and are happy to be somewhat cagey about their true views in order to attain their ambition).

    Where there is "coercion", I totally oppose it. It is absolutely silly to make people go to church.

    I very much agree with you that all faiths and non-faiths should be explored in schools.

    As for daily worship, it is obvious that the 80% of Muslim pupils at the school I cited are not being made to mouth Christian prayers or hymns.

    To the extent that some children may be drawn along into Christianity, I would say that they will soon dump it when they are teenagers if they are not truly believing of it. I did.

    If a child is a baptised Christian, the assumption is that child is within the church and will be given a chance to make a considered judgment on membership of the church when they come to confirmation age. (The Baptist church has a somewhat different approach - naming followed by baptism when grown up).

    I agree with you that there is a dilemma here with church schools. Freedom of religion is a major human right which I fully support. But I come back to the Church of England school with 80% Muslim pupils. None of those 80% Muslim pupils are being coerced to say Christian prayers or to do anything inconsistent with their religion. I agree that some children of no faith may get sucked into "pretending" to be Christian or unwillingly made to say prayers and not given freedom to explore other non-faith/faith-orientations in school. Where that happens I disapprove of it and I hope it can be avoided in future.

    Part of my faith is that I should try to bring other people to the faith. However, my particular attitude is that I am more likely to bring people to the faith by being extremely liberal and accomodating to other faiths and non-faiths than by coming over all-preachy and "holier than thou" and taking the attitude that there can only be one answer. I would rather people think about faith/non-faith than blindly follow Christianity. That translates to my attitude to Church of England schools. I think that the Christian faith should be advertised and available, but not rammed down people's throats. This seems to be consistent with the Church of England's policy (if perhaps not its 100% widespread practice) "to reach out, to include, not with the purpose of indoctrination but in order to offer education clearly based on Christian values to the wider community,"