20 June 2012
The Church of England and Durham
University have announced a partnership to provide validation
for the education of ministers.
Following recent approval from the University Senate and the
Archbishops' Council, detailed negotiations will continue with a
view to a new suite of awards starting in 2014.
The Church of England currently has around 1,200 men and women
at 23 colleges and courses in programmes of ministerial
education. In addition there are others preparing for lay
ministries, such as Readers and evangelists, as well as candidates
for ministry from other Churches being educated in the same or
The agreement potentially extends to a wide range of initial
ministerial education for both clergy and other ministers and
offers national coverage. The partnership is intended to include
the colleges and courses. At present these have a range of
individual validation partners. Changes in government policy
for funding Higher Education have affected these
arrangements. The Church of England is therefore seeking
secure provision for the future through a dedicated common provider
for all the courses and colleges.
The University will be responsible for granting the awards and
for overseeing their assessment and regulation. Under a scheme
called ValidationPlus, they will also support the colleges and
courses through web-based provision and the services of expert
staff based in the Theology and Religious Studies Department.
Durham University has a similar partnership arrangement with
KPMG, a leading accountancy and consultancy firm. The ethos
of the programme is research-led education of those called to lead
in their field.
The appointment process generated considerable interest in the
partnership and a large number of bids were received. The
criteria for selection included:
- sympathy with the aims and objectives of the Church of England
and its partner Churches and familiarity with the contexts served
by the Churches;
- commitment to the partnership evidenced at the highest level
within the institution(s);
- proven expertise in the teaching of Theology and Religious
Studies normally evidenced through an active TRS department;
- proven expertise in the validation of programmes of study for
other professions ideally on a national scale;
- best value for money both in terms of initial costs and over
the projected five year term of the contract.
The Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich and Chair of the
Ministry Council of the Church of England, said, "We were impressed
with all the bids we received and are delighted to be working with
Durham on this exciting project. As a University with a high
quality department of theology and a track record in validation,
Durham is an ideal partner for both the Ministry Division and the
colleges and courses."
Professor Chris Higgins, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University,
said: "Durham is exceptionally well placed to work with the Church
in this way because of our world position in theology and religion,
and our considerable experience over 100 years of close partnership
in ministerial training through St John's College and indeed at an
earlier stage, St Chad's College.
"Our history, our current expertise and our long-term
sustainability provides a fruitful soil to cultivate such a
"We look forward to working with the Church of England on this
proposed partnership as we continue to develop the world-leading
teaching, research and training available in theology and religion
The new arrangements are intended to make validation simpler and
more affordable for the sector. The new provision will bring
greater coherence to the training and education offered across the
colleges, courses and dioceses.
The introduction of the new awards will not affect the education
of those already in colleges and courses, which will continue to
operate as at present. Current students will be able to
continue their studies without interruption and should be reassured
that their preparation for ministry will not be impaired.
Where necessary, interim arrangements for validation will be made
in order to ensure this.
The arrangement will potentially be available for the training
of lay ministers, including Readers, and for other individuals who
wish to study with a view to serving the Church.
Work on the awards will continue into 2013 and will be led by a
group chaired by the Bishop of Sheffield. Colleagues from the
Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Churches will continue to
participate with the intention of sharing in the awards in due
course. The Methodist Church report on ministerial and lay
training "The Fruitful Field" refers to the proposed validation
partnership as an element in its future provision.
Validation is the instrument by which theological education is
kept at the required level of academic quality. It is an
important aspect in the provision of ministerial training but it is
a means rather than the end. Alterations to validation have
an effect on training but these are not of the same kind as, for
example, proposals for reorganising the theological institutions or
other matters which change the content, context or character of the
education offered. The present proposals for a new validation
partnership are about providing a better and more affordable means
to provide the academic basis for the work of the colleges and
Theological education for ministers in the Church of England has
been accredited and validated in a range of ways over the past 50
years. Originally the standard was set by the General
Ordination Examination (GOE) and this was fulfilled by a number of
routes within theological colleges, including internal courses as
well as by taking university degrees.
As the Higher Education sector developed in the 1980s, partly
through the influence of the Council for National Academic Awards,
theological colleges and courses began to offer professional
qualifications for ministry accredited by but not based in
universities. This trend was further advanced when, in place of the
GOE syllabus, courses and colleges were required to set out their
curriculum for approval by the Ministry Division on behalf of the
House of Bishops.
From this period the number of theological institutions and
their complexity grew, so that at present there are 23 such
institutions teaching for a wide range of awards validated by a
total of 19 Higher Education institutions. It is widely
recognised that there is a need to simplify and give coherence
within the sector, in view of the cost in terms of effort, money
and time which this complexity generates and bearing in mind the
relatively small cohort of 1,200 students served.
Changes in government policy on funding Higher Education in 2010
created a significant impact on the current arrangements for
initial ministerial training. The withdrawal of Higher
Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) funding and the
raising of the limit on student fees exposed the Church of England
to a significant net rise in the cost of ordinands studying for
awards validated by universities. The primary reason for seeking an
alternative way of providing access to validated awards was in
order to contain the cost within what the Church can afford.
The individual course or college will have considerable
independence in how and what it teaches. However, since
ordinands will be studying for the same suite of awards, there will
be both a common standard and similar outcomes for the whole cohort
and therefore greater quality assurance for the church. There
will also be a basis for better learning and teaching at the level
of IME 4 to 7 when frequently the group of new ministers consists
of those from a range of colleges and courses where there is a
discrepancy between what they have studied and the level of their