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Interim report recommends dioceses to consider new schools

At the request of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Church Schools Review Group, chaired by Lord Dearing, is today issuing an interim report addressed to the Archbishops' Council.

The report focuses on the disparity in provision between the Church of England's primary and secondary schools. Currently, one in four primary schools, but only about one in 20 secondary schools, is a Church of England school. This means that only a small proportion of pupils in Church of England primary schools can continue their education in a Church secondary school, leading to considerable pressure on places. The report also draws attention to the geographical gaps in Church of England secondary school provision.

The report recommends that all dioceses should consider the feasibility of increasing their provision by two secondary schools (or three, if there is only one secondary school, or none at all, in the diocese) over the next five years.

The report comments on the need for Christian teachers and on the importance of the Church's partnership with local education authorities. It suggests that new Church schools should have a core of Christian pupils, but that they should open their gates to others in society as part of the Church's mission to serve the nation.

Lord Dearing comments:

"Our terms of reference begin with the premise that Church schools are at the centre of the Church's mission to the nation. If that is the case, then it is obvious that the Church's mission cannot be discharged through its schools unless the Church develops new schools in areas of need and opportunity and where there is historic under-provision. In this, we place very great importance on the Church's mission to serve the most disadvantaged in society."

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have welcomed the Review Group's interim report and authorised its publication in order to stimulate a wide-ranging debate on the issues identified.

The Church Schools Review Group has been working for six months. It hopes to issue a Consultation Report in December 2000, and to complete its work in the Summer of 2001.

Interim Progress Report to the Archbishops' Council
by the Church Schools Review Group

The Church Schools Review Group has now been working for six months, and while we have much more to do before we report in a year's time we felt it would be helpful to offer a progress report. The concern of this report is with the provision for Church of England secondary schools where the case for action by the Church is clear and where in our view the opportunity and need for action is evident. We shall comment substantively on primary schools in our later reports.

We begin by a brief consideration of the General Synod's resolution passed in November 1998, that the Church schools stand at the centre of the Church's mission to the nation.

The Church schools are inviting and friendly places for parents: as it was put to us at one conference, 'We do not admit children, we admit families.' Since the majority of Church schools serve a much wider community than the children of members of the Church, this attitude brings many more adults into a relationship with the practice of the Christian faith than attend church services. Often parents are welcome to take part in worship with their children, if not weekly, then on special occasions. Many do, especially at the primary level. About 940,000 children and young people are currently educated in maintained Church of England schools. That is about five times the number of children currently counted as attending Sunday services in church. In terms of the education provided, these schools have earned a respected place in the national provision, leading to strong demand by parents. It is worth noting that a further 120,000 children are educated in the 220 independent secondary schools that have an Anglican foundation. Our final report will include commentary about these, but this interim report focuses on the maintained Church of England schools. The Church schools therefore provide a valued and distinct element in the overall provision for education and a major element in the capability of the Church in discharging its mission to the nation.

If, as we agree, the Church schools are central to the Church's mission to the nation, it seemed to us that amongst the first issues we should examine was the capability of the present Church schools to discharge that mission. We shall have more to say in a later report about the distinctiveness of Church schools. However, it is clear that Church schools can only discharge the Church's mission in those areas where they exist. Our findings on provision are as follows:-

(1) The provision of Church schools is markedly uneven as between one diocese and another, and within dioceses.

(2) The provision is uneven as between primary and secondary schools, with five times more places in primary than in secondary schools.

(3) The provision is greater in older established areas of housing in cities, towns and villages than in newer areas of development, reflecting the great commitment of the Church to provide education to the poor before the State became a main provider after the Education act of 1870.

This points to the need to increase provision in particular at the secondary level, but also to supplement the number of primary schools where there is no provision in a locality.

Turning to the secondary schools in particular, we have noted that:-

(1) There are places for only 150,000 pupils in Church of England secondary schools compared with 790,000 places at primary schools, with the consequence that the great majority of those leaving a Church primary school cannot choose to continue their education in a Church secondary school. This is in marked contrast to the practice in the Roman Catholic Church, which achieved a five-fold increase in secondary places between 1950-70.

(2) Of the 180 Church schools providing secondary education, some 40 are middle schools, covering the middle age ranges, some of which may be vulnerable in areas where school reorganisation takes place.

(3) In seven dioceses there are currently no Church secondary schools (although some have plans for them), and in a further seven dioceses there is only one.

(4) There is currently only one Church secondary school in a thirty-five mile wide band up the East Coast from the city of Hull to the Scottish border, a distance of some 150 miles.

(5) Examples of major cities and towns without a maintained Church of England secondary school include Bournemouth, Brighton, Gloucester, Ipswich, Newcastle on Tyne, Norwich, Plymouth, Sheffield and Sunderland.

This lack of provision indicates that if, as the General Synod has said, Church schools are central to the Church's mission to the nation, the lack of secondary provision in general, and in some major areas in particular, means that it is simply not possible to discharge that mission. It also indicates a real need to make a major increase in provision.

There would be no point, however, in seeking to provide more places if there were no matching parental and student demand. In fact, there is evidence of widespread unsatisfied demand leading governing bodies in too many cases to adopt a much more circumscribed application of admissions policies than they would wish. This demand reflects:

(1) the confidence parents have in the established values and practices of Church schools deriving from the characteristics and moral standards of a Christian community.

(2) a faith basis for the life of the school which is often chosen by parents of other faiths because they value the sensitive practice of a faith which respects religious experience and takes it seriously.

(3) the regard parents often have for the general education provided by Church schools.

We now turn to what kind of response the Church might wish to make to this situation.

To provide a balance between secondary and primary places would mean creating some 600 additional Church secondary schools for 600,000 pupils (assuming each school has 1,000 places). Although it is right that the Church should be very conscious of and concerned about the huge gap between provision at the primary and secondary levels, we have not considered parity of provision because:

(1) While we are clear that there is an unsatisfied parental demand and that there is a general lack of provision, which is particularly evident in extensive areas of the country, we have no evidence that it is of an order to require an increase of secondary provision on such a huge scale.

(2) The Church is not in the business of creating surplus places by displacing other schools that are already providing valued service to the community, and will only introduce new Church schools by and with local agreement.

(3) The Church's financial resources are already largely committed and in addition to extra places in secondary schools there will have to be some infilling in primary provision, whilst there are other competing claims on resources.

(4) The Church must proceed by agreement with School Organisation Committees at local level: it is a case of proceeding by consent and of recognising that other providers will have their own legitimate aspirations.

(5) It would be wrong to proceed without ensuring a continuing supply of Christian Headteachers, and given that the Church's mission is to all the nation, the availability of Headteachers who can succeed in areas of greatest disadvantage.

This comment applies equally to the availability of a core of Christian staff to ensure a distinctive character to any additional Church schools.

In our final report, we shall wish to offer considered, quantified advice to the Archbishops' Council on the scale of the response needed to address the significant disparity in provision between the Church of England's primary and secondary schools, to which we have drawn attention. We shall look, for example, at the feasibility of adopting a long-term policy of ensuring that, say, at least half of all pupils in Church of England primary schools might continue their education in a Church of England secondary school. But even if that proved to be a feasible long-term undertaking, it is not one for the medium term.

It will be for the dioceses to determine the scale of this medium-term response in the light of their assessment of local needs and opportunities, but we recommend that this should be guided by a challenging interpretation of what that response might be. We therefore recommend that each diocese should now examine the feasibility of expanding its secondary provision by the equivalent of two additional secondary schools over a period of five years, but with the proviso that those dioceses which currently have only one secondary school, or none at all, might aspire to three. Such increased provision might be achieved either through an expansion of existing secondary schools or the provision of extra schools. If such an expansion could be realised across the dioceses, it would mean the equivalent of an additional 100 Church of England secondary schools.

We make this recommendation since we confidently and strongly believe that Church schools have something real and positive and distinctive to contribute to contemporary society at the turn of the Millennium. We would also recommend taking the opportunity to work with ecumenical partners where that is appropriate. In making these recommendations, we do recognise that much will depend on achieving agreement with local authorities and other interested parties through School Organisation Committees. We have been extremely impressed and encouraged by the excellent working relationships that many dioceses have achieved with local education authorities. These are indicative of the opportunities for future partnerships.

The Financial Dimension

The cost of a policy of providing new schools depends very much on the type of school decided on by the diocese in consultation with the relevant School Organisation Committee for the areas concerned. For a voluntary aided school the Church will need to find up to 15 per cent of the initial capital costs of a new school and 15 per cent of appropriate maintenance costs. (The definition of these maintenance costs is currently under review.)

For a voluntary aided new secondary school of roughly 1,000 places, including the cost of land, the 15 per cent of initial capital costs could typically be of the order of £2 million. But often the capital contribution may be mitigated by contributions by developers from development gain. In other cases, the local authority may be willing to contribute towards the governing body's 15 per cent. The cost of a new voluntary aided school will therefore be a matter for local negotiation case by case.

We are conscious that while some Diocesan Boards of Education have the financial resources to fund one additional secondary aided school, and in a few cases two, there are others that lack such resources. This raises the question whether there should be some limited central resource to assist dioceses to meet part of the capital cost of new aided schools. During the course of our further work we will sound opinion on that, and on how it might be funded.

But it is relevant to note that the provisions in the 1944 Education Act for loans towards the capital cost of new schools have been continued in force by the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, and the Review Group has raised with the DfEE the possibility that applications may be made. Our preliminary enquiries of dioceses suggest that many would welcome extending the availability of such loan finance. Alternatively, there may be opportunities under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). The Diocesan Boards of Education will also need to consider how they will cope with the short-term but very significant increase in workload that would result from a policy of providing additional schools. We see additional resourcing for the Diocesan Boards of Education as fundamental to any policy for expansion. In our final report we shall consider how any increase in the number of Church schools might most efficiently be resourced.

The Character and Admissions Policy for New Church Schools

Whatever objective for additional secondary schools may be agreed, their admissions policies will have a profound influence on the character of the school. This is an issue on which the Archbishops' Council will wish to reflect. Our advice at this stage is that new Church schools should always have a substantial core of Christian teachers and pupils from Christian families, so that they are in effect a living Christian community, but that they should also serve the whole community of which they are part, welcoming pupils from all backgrounds and faiths. We shall have more to say on these matters in our final report, but we see these two recommendations as the basis for policies for additional schools to be settled by dioceses in relation to local circumstances.

Drawing on current best practice, we would however recommend to dioceses that when a Church school is under consideration particular attention is given to:

(1) close consultation from the earliest stage with other interests, including other Christian churches, but in particular with local authorities and other schools in the locality;

(2) fostering from the beginning a close working relationship between the envisaged new school and the churches in the area to be served by the school;

(3) planning strong support for the Headteacher during the start up year;

(4) the mission of the Church to serve areas of social deprivation as part of its mission to the nation;

(5) the importance of a strong, supportive governing body, with its full complement of active foundation governors.

We draw these matters to attention as being directly relevant both to the success of a school and to its distinctiveness.

Christian Teachers

The long term provision of Christian teachers, the development of excellent Headteachers and Deputy Headteachers, and the training of school governors are among the issues we shall wish to address in our final report. In this future task, recommendations for the future well being and the Christian character of the Church Colleges will be much in our minds. But we would mention here that we should also wish to comment on support for Christian teachers in all schools.

Further Reports

Looking ahead, we will offer further interim reports if that should seem helpful, but in particular we look forward to publishing a Consultation Report before Christmas. Indeed we hope that this first interim document, if you should decide on publication, will stimulate further debate on all the issues raised in our terms of reference.

R E Dearing
On behalf of the Church Schools Review Group