Education has become
a battleground. Perhaps this has always been the case but over
recent years the Government has introduced an extraordinary number
of initiatives and regulations, which are intended not only to
improve the quality of education but also to determine how children
are shaped in the early years of their lives. Some of these initiatives
are deliberately intended to propagate particular sets of values,
which do not sit comfortably with Christian teaching.
One clear example of this
is the issue of sex education. Mainstream education has
focussed on contraception. This teaching has within it
the implicit and often explicit message that sexual activity for
young children is acceptable, so long as they use contraceptives.
Anyone with any sense could tell you that such teaching
will increase sexual activity. It is no surprise therefore
rates for teenage pregnancy and teenage abortions appear to have
continued to rise, and that alongside this there has been a meteoric
rise in sexually transmitted diseases. Many schools do
teach abstinence but my point is that education is an ideological
battleground and politicians in particular seem to see it as their
job to intervene (or interfere) in the way schools are run and
the way children are taught.
All this raises difficult
questions for Christian parents regarding our willingness for
our children to be taught in a way that may undermine much of
what we believe. It may be something to do with my age
(having school age children) but my impression is that home schooling
by Christian parents has increased in recent years and also that
some of the newer churches have begun to set up schools.
This all reflects a growing concern about the increased ideological
nature of state education. But Christian schools and Christian
schooling is nothing new.
In his book on Children
in the Early Church William Strange gives some details on the
educational views of early Christians. Of course, in general,
this meant education for only certain portions of society.
Christian schools seem to have first arisen as a fruit of the
monastic movement in the 5 th Century. Before this there
is no evidence for explicitly Christian schooling. This
is surprising because the education of children seems to have
been very much part of Jewish culture and identity although in
large measure this was because of the need to teach boys in particular
to read the Scripture in Hebrew. The evidence of the early
Christians is that those who sent their children to school saw
no harm in a general education. Origen extolled the virtues
of a classical education and John Chrysostom in writing about
the education of Children did not suggest that parents should
keep their children from ordinary schooling. Indeed this
can be said to reflect a distinctly different ethos as between
Judaism and early Christianity – to be in the world but
not of it was the Christian way, only when being in would involve
unacceptable compromise (such as became the case at times for
Christians in the Army due to the oaths they had to swear) did
they opt out. Strange quotes the anonymous second century
Epistle to Diognetus: ?The Christians are not distinguished
from the rest of mankind by country, or by speech, or by dress.
For they do not dwell in cities of their own, or use a
different language or practice a peculiar life. ? yet the condition
of citizenship which they exhibit is wonderful and admittedly
strange? Every foreign land to them is a fatherland, and every
fatherland a foreign land.'
Despite these beginnings
Christian education became an established practice. Not
only did Christian parents seek it for their own children where
they were able but with time they entered the battleground of
general education and sought to influence the lives of the children
of others by the provision of schools. In the United Kingdom
most older educational institutions are Christian foundations
of one sort or another. Moreover, even today a large proportion
of schools are Christian.
According to the Church
of England Board of Education more than one quarter of all state
primary schools are Church of England. Some schools are
voluntary aided , in which case the school is
actually owned by the Church although 90% of capital costs are
paid out of state taxation and only 10% specifically by the local
Church. The Church also appoints a majority of governors
and the governing body both appoints and employs teachers.
It is expected that the worship and education have a distinctively
Anglican flavour. Faith based criteria can also be used
in admissions criteria. A voluntary controlled
school is also owned by the Church, but all capital
costs are met by the Local Education Authority. More significantly,
the Church does not appoint a majority of the governors and staff
are appointed and employed by the LEA not by the governing body.
Although worship will be Anglican the governors have less
control over the education. Foundation schools
are similar to voluntary aided schools except that a separate
foundation rather than the Church owns the school. The
Church of England schools educate one in every five children in
our land. Roman Catholic primary schools educate nearly
one in ten but there are very few other Christian primary schools
within the state sector.
In state secondary education
the Church of England presence is much smaller with only 5.8%
of state secondary schools (for Roman Catholics it is over 10%).
However, this is not the whole picture and I suspect that
many of our older secondary schools have a distinctly Christian
past. When we visited one of our local schools for my sons
secondary transfer I was surprised to see that its motto was a
biblical text (I forget which one) and indeed then discovered
that it had a Christian foundation, although this appeared to
make little practical difference to the school today. It
is in private education that the Christian influence is even clearer.
According to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) there
are 2,400 independent schools in the UK of which around 1,300
are members of the ISC. From the information they provide
over 500 of these have a Church of England ethos but almost all
the remainder are Christian foundations of one sort or another
(1,195 out of a total of 1,273).
Church Schools are increasingly
popular. In large part this is because on average they
do seem to do better than their non-religious counterparts.
There could be all sorts of reasons behind this but writing as
I am on the day the primary league tables have been posted I noticed
one headline in a national daily ?Church primaries are top of
class' (my apologies for any who despise league tables).
Aside from this, having a Christian foundation, or even
a strong Church of England influence, does not necessarily make
much difference to the way in which education is conducted.
In my experience aside from vaguely Anglican assemblies and statements
about caring for the whole child many CofE schools show little
difference from their non-religious counterparts. It was
partly with this in view that we invited the Principal of Emmanuel
College Gateshead to speak at a fringe meeting 18 months ago on
the subject ?Christianity across the curriculum'. The speaker,
Jonathan Winch, promised me at that time an article in due course
on a related subject. I am very grateful to Jonathan for
the article that appears in this issue. The Emmanuel Foundation
recently opened its third school, this time in Doncaster.
Church Society has always
had a small finger in the educational pie although this has been
diminished in recent years. Of course there is a tenuous
link through the fact that presumably at least one third of the
churches for which we have patronage also have Church schools,
but Church Society Trust is also represented on the Board of Trustees
of a primary school in Blackpool and the Society appoints all
the Trustees of Luckley-Oakfield School. Luckley-Oakfield
was once wholly owned by the Society but is now a separate trust
although in the event of its closure the properties would revert
to the Society for educational purposes. At the moment
the school, which is a private secondary school for girls seems
to be flourishing. (In the past the Society was also involved
with Westcliff School in Weston-super-Mare and in a training college
for women called St. Michael's House in Oxford. At the time of
writing I could not tell you any more about the history of these
latter two but if any readers would like to enlighten me I would
be very grateful and will add any details to our website for historical
interest and for reference.)
We have been promised some
material, which may be of assistance to Church schools, in particular
for governors of Church of England schools. We will make
this material available on our website in due course. Knowing
that there must be great expertise amongst our members who are
teachers, governors or parochial clergy with Church Schools we
would be pleased to receive any material or information which
we can share in a similar way.
What underlay the decision
to invite Jonathan Winch to speak was that mature Christian faith
carries with it a distinctively Christian world-view. We
should not be frightened of secular education because given a
level playing field we believe that we can demonstrate that a
Christian world-view makes far more sense of the world and is
far more coherent than any secular alternatives. What is
of concern is that our Christian schools do not seem to shape
their education by such a world-view. It feels as if many
accept the secular models and then try to add on some faith bits.
Indeed this is how many Christians seem to operate in their
daily lives. But a reformed Christianity, such as is the
Anglican way, involves being transformed by the renewing of our
minds (Rom 12.1), we are in the world, but we see the world differently
and so are not of it. This should affect all areas of our
lives, not least the way we teach our children.
The text of this page has been taken
from an article written in Cross†Way. Click here
articles on this issue
Christian Ethos School. Jonathan Winch, Principal of Emmanuel
College Gateshead, explains how Christianity can provide a better
base on which learning can take place compared to the current
British education system.
Free to Teach. Cross†Way article outlining the opposition faced by some University Christian Unions for being faithful to the bible, and possible action to support them.
Being a Christian Student Today. Cross†Way article by Jessica Bowen discussing some of the issues and challenges of being a Christian student in today's universities.
Admission to Church of England Schools. Copy of a letter from Chris Watkin, a Senior Education Officer, to the Bishop of Chester regarding the CofEs decision to back Governemnt proposals (which were eventually dropped) to make faith schools admit a quota of children from different religions or none.