A Christian presence in every community

Church schools - FAQs

ADMISSIONS
Are Church of England schools socially divisive?

Do the admission procedures for 'faith' places help CofE schools 'cherry pick' middle-class children?

Do parents attend church in order to gain places for their children in CofE schools?

TEACHING AND LEARNING
Are children in CofE schools exposed to narrow religious teaching?

Do CofE schools indoctrinate children?

Do CofE schools provide the full National Curriculum?

Do CofE schools provide restricted forms of sex education?

Do CofE schools encourage homophobia?

Do CofE schools discourage open discussion of important social and political topics?

FUNDING
Should CofE schools be publicly funded? Why is taxpayers' money going to fund religious schools?

EMPLOYMENT
Aren't CofE schools discriminating by only employing Christian staff?

Are Church of England schools socially divisive? No, most church schools simply reflect the areas in which they are located. All CofE Voluntary Controlled schools (around 2,500) have 100 per cent local admissions, and fully reflect the community within which they are set. CofE Voluntary Aided schools (around 2,100) usually admit children of Church of England and other Christian families first, but the vast majority also admit local children including children from families of other faith traditions. For background on admissions procedures, please see response to the next question.

All schools are obliged to contribute to community cohesion, and an assessment of each school's activity in this area is included in their OFTED report. Joint projects and activities such as exchange programmes, playing sports or more formal twinning arrangements are used to link schools of different characters and help foster greater respect and understanding.

Research published in November 2009 showed that the average grade awarded by OFSTED to secondary-level faith schools for promoting community cohesion was "substantially and significantly" better than the average grade awarded to community schools. Similar differences were found in relation to the grades given for promoting equality of opportunity among students. At primary level, schools with and without a faith foundation received the same average grades for these two areas of school life.

In September 2007, the Church of England joined all the other main faith school providers in England in signing a shared vision for promoting community cohesion through schools with a religious character. In 'Faith in the System,' the Government and religious groups confirmed their commitment to continue to work together - and with schools with and without a religious character - to improve the life chances of children, to build bridges to greater mutual trust and understanding and to contribute to a just and cohesive society. You can read the 'Faith in the System' document here.

Many church schools (both VC and VA, primary and secondary) have a high proportion of Muslim children, a substantial number have over 80 per cent intake from the Muslim community.

The CofE is committed to reserving at least 25 per cent of places in new CofE schools for pupils from the local neighbourhood regardless of faith background or none. In practice most new CofE schools reserve less than 50 per cent for Christian applicants, and almost all CofE Academies have 100 per cent neighbourhood admissions.

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Do the admission procedures for 'faith' places help CofE schools 'cherry pick' middle-class children?

No, national and diocesan guidance on admissions to Voluntary Aided schools stress the importance of simple, clear criteria, which (for 'faith' places) focus solely on attendance at worship, either on Sunday or another day of the week. There is nothing inherently 'middle class' about going to church (and if parents are opposed to attending worship it is difficult to see why they would be seeking a place at a school because of its Christian foundation and ethos).

The CofE has always supported the ban on interviews, additional tests or the seeking of other information about the family.

The Church's own analysis shows that, across the whole school stock (secondary and primary), the CofE has an almost identical proportion of schools labelled as having 'severe' disadvantage (over 30% eligible for free school meals) as the rest of the state sector.

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Do parents attend church in order to gain places for their children in CofE schools?

The simple answer is that some may, in order to meet the entrance requirements of the school they have chosen (i.e if it is a popular Voluntary Aided school). Even if one accepts the idea that this is wrong, it is not dissimilar to parents who live outside the area served by a popular community school claiming to live at an address within the area, or even to move house so they do live in the area. It is easy to be judgmental: for some families attending church can turn into genuine commitment.

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Are children in CofE schools exposed to narrow religious teaching?

The Church considers it essential that children learn about the major faiths represented in Britain today as well as having a sound grounding in Christian faith and belief. Therefore, all RE syllabuses taught in church schools are multi-faith and require students to learn about at least the six major world faiths. The recent non-statutory Framework for RE reinforces this requirement.

Voluntary Controlled schools teach RE according to the local Agreed Syllabus - the same syllabus used by community schools. Voluntary Aided schools sometimes use this local syllabus, but mostly use the syllabus developed by their diocese, which will be based on the commitment above to teaching about a range of faiths.

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Do CofE schools indoctrinate children?

Of course not. While Church of England schools naturally have a particular concern for enabling children to understand the Christian faith, especially as expressed in the Anglican Church, our schools are committed to nurturing, encouraging and challenging those of all faiths and none. Indoctrination is where only one point of view is represented as true and others are diminished or ignored. In our schools, good RE enables students to learn about Christianity and other faiths as part of their general education and also part of their own spiritual development.

Nevertheless, as in all schools, parents have the right to withdraw their children from RE and collective worship.

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Do CofE schools provide the full National Curriculum?

Yes, church schools are bound by the law in this and many other respects, and are inspected by OFSTED to ensure they are doing so. Similarly, CofE Academies are the same as other Academies: they are expected to demonstrate innovative approaches to the curriculum in order to raise attainment.

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Do CofE schools provide restricted forms of sex education? What does the Church say about making Sex and Relationships Education a statutory part of the curriculum?

CofE schools are subject to the same requirements as other schools: governors take the decision on the specific nature of a sex education programme, but all schools must follow the sex education component of the science curriculum.

We welcomed the decision to make Sex and Relationship Education a statutory part of the wider curriculum.

Church of England schools aim to develop in all students the knowledge and capacity to make informed choices about their personal lives. Whatever the specific content of the syllabus, church schools will continue to place sex education within the framework of a Christian understanding of sex and human relationships, which stresses the importance of a faithful marriage as the best framework for sex.

We are encouraged by the government's continuing recognition of the role that governing bodies play, in discussion with parents, in judging the most appropriate content for such lessons, particularly at primary school level. The small minority of parents who wish to withdraw their children from sex education lessons within the SRE part of the curriculum continue to be able to do so (until the child reaches the age of 15).

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Do CofE schools encourage homophobia?

No. Bullying - whatever form it takes - has no place in schools and staff work to enable all students to learn in an atmosphere free from harassment and antagonism. In particular, discrimination on grounds of race, colour, belief or sexual orientation is usually expressly forbidden with a school's code of conduct.

The Anglican Church's traditional teaching is that homosexual practice (as distinct from orientation) 'falls short of the ideal' expression of sexual love, which should be set within the framework of a faithful marriage. However, this subject is widely debated within the Church. At the appropriate stage within the RE or sex education curriculum, all students, in all schools, should have the opportunity to examine the full range of views, including the different Christian views, and to develop their own considered position.

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Do CofE schools discourage open discussion of important social and political topics?

No, CofE schools are committed to putting the big questions of life, purpose and meaning at the heart of the curriculum and to equipping pupils to be able to form their own approaches to life, whether informed by Christian or religious commitment or not.

CofE schools encourage pupils to express their personal beliefs and philosophies with confidence and in an atmosphere of open and critical discussion.

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Should CofE schools be publicly funded? Why is taxpayers' money going to fund religious schools?

The English system of education has been built in partnership with the Christian churches, right from the start of mass education. The Churches were the first providers, funding building and staff costs through voluntary donations. The State gradually became convinced that it had a duty to provide education and gradually assumed a larger and larger part of the task. But this shouldn't mean that church schools are no longer an important part of the educational landscape of a liberal democracy.

A 2008 survey showed that the majority of the population - including those who do not see themselves as Christian - agree that parents should be able to choose a state-run school for their child based on their own religious, moral or philosophical considerations. Two-thirds of parents (with children under 18) hold this opinion, consistent with the spirit of plurality in education which is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

A 2009 Guardian/ICM poll of 1,000 adults showed that "60% thought children benefited from a faith-based education, while 69% of those with school-age children supported a religious ethos at school".

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Aren't CofE schools discriminating by only employing Christian staff?

Firstly, Church of England schools do not only employ Christian staff. The staff teams of Church of England schools are diverse, with members drawn from all faiths and backgrounds. This diversity is what helps make church schools as vibrant and stimulating as any other school environment. The Christian commitment to the value of every individual extends beyond the student in the classroom to the staff, and every member of the school community.

Schools with a designated Church of England character are able to ask for Christian commitment as one of the criteria used in making staff appointments, so that the Christian character of the school may be effectively maintained.

  • In VC and Foundation schools, governors may want to ask how potential headteachers will maintain and develop the religious character and ethos of the school. This does not necessarily mean that only Christians can be appointed to these leadership roles - for instance, there are VC schools where the head is a Muslim, or of no faith.
  • When appointing members of the teaching staff, governors of VA schools can include Christian commitment as part of the criteria for the role. In practice, this is usually only the case for the leadership team, where the responsibility for enhancing the Christian ethos of the school is a major aspect of their role.
  • For the appointment of teaching assistants and other non-teaching staff, if VA schools and Academies can establish a Genuine Occupational Requirement, they may be able to reserve the post for those with a Christian commitment. This is particularly important in the case of higher level teaching assistants, who may be teaching large groups or whole classes of students.

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