There’s been much debate about education over the past few years and unprecedented changes and pressures for children, parents, teachers and other school staff. The Church of England has been at the heart of many of the debates as it continues to provide education in church schools throughout the country including here in Doncaster.
I have been involved in these debates as chair of the Diocesan Board of Education.
Not everyone supports the notion of church schools and there’s been discussion about whether the church should continue to provide education at this level, our admissions policy, whether parents attend church simply to get their children into the local church school, the level and appropriateness of the religious education and the relevance of religious assemblies.
When I visit schools, it’s always a joy to see children and staff engaging in issues from a faith perspective, and not just the Christian faith. Teachers and support staff do an outstanding job helping children understand all faiths and none and they do so in very imaginative ways, often integrated into other aspects of the curriculum. This builds an awareness of faith, custom and practice, but also tolerance and citizenship which can only be good for the welfare and benefit of the whole community. All of this equips children with key skills and knowledge but also helps them become whole, rounded, human beings. It enables children to develop character and acquire resilience, helping them to be ready to play a full part in society.
Surely, no one would argue that tolerance, respect and peace brought about by understanding different cultures, faiths and practices isn’t good for the moral health of society. Developing an understanding that is tolerant of all, should also include those who hold secular views. But the ethos of the Church of England’s 4,664 primary and secondary schools, which comes through understanding the person and teachings of Jesus Christ, allows children to engage with issues of faith and spirituality.
The church is committed not only to providing children with good quality education but also serving the community. Whichever side of the debate you sit on the key point is that whether it’s a church or state school we need to ensure that all children wherever they live receive the very best education. The changes that have taken place have on the whole been good and designed to give children the brightest start to a lifelong learning process. Education is not the play thing of any political party, nor should teachers and staff be used as pawns in politically-motivated philosophical arguments about education. I am not, for example, a great supporter of extensive testing. Giving children the opportunity to shine and to reach their potential is far more important.
* Peter Burrows, Bishop of Doncaster