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New Church of England schools to offer a quarter of places to non-church families

All new Church of England schools should have at least a quarter of admission places available to non-Christians but Parliament should not expect the same commitment from other faith communities, the chairman of the Board of Education has told the Secretary of State for Education.

In a letter to Alan Johnson, the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Dr Kenneth Stevenson, writes: “As chairman of the Board of Education and National Society, and as the Church of England’s spokesman on education in the House of Lords, I want to make a specific commitment that all new Church of England schools should have at least 25% of places available to children with no requirement that they be of practising Christian families. The places would not be left empty if they were not filled by such children, so this would technically not be a ‘quota’ but a ‘proportion’. This commitment relates explicitly to new Church of England schools.”

Bishop Kenneth goes on to say: “It has been suggested that all ‘faith schools’ without exception should make this commitment. I want to be clear that I would not support that proposal. This is a commitment for the Church of England not a statement of policy for all schools with a religious character. As I have said before, the Church supports the provision of more schools by and for the faith communities. It would not be right, in our view, for Parliament to require the same commitment from them as well. They are themselves a sign of inclusion and their very existence promotes community cohesion, which would be further enhanced by the development of robust and effective educational links between schools of a different character.”

Bishop Kenneth points out that “The Church of England is strongly committed to providing schools that are distinctively Christian and at the same time inclusive. I welcome the fact that Church of England schools in many parts of the country have really significant proportions of pupils of the world faiths other than Christianity and of no particular faith.”

Of 22 Church of England secondary schools recently opened, the majority are serving more disadvantaged communities and have inclusive admissions policies. Most give priority to local children or do not admit on the basis of faith. Of the rest, only one has a proportion of places for local as opposed to faith priority lower than 50%, allocating 33% of places to those of other faiths and on a local basis.

 

 

The text of the Bishop’s letter

 

To the Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP

Secretary of State for Education and Skills

 

3 October 2006

 

Dear Alan

 

Church of England school admissions

 

The Church of England is strongly committed to providing schools that are distinctively Christian and at the same time inclusive. There is no opposition between the two aims. Part of a school’s Christian commitment is to reach out, to include, not with the purpose of indoctrination but in order to offer education clearly based on Christian values to the wider community. Church of England schools also aim to nurture the children of Christian families in their faith, to encourage those of other faiths, and to challenge those of no faith.

This is no new commitment. It began in 1811 when the National Society was founded by the Church of England, with the express purpose of developing a universal system of education in England and Wales. Lord Dearing’s Report in June 2001 drew attention to this commitment and gave it fresh momentum. The Church’s General Synod endorsed it in November 2001. The Church of England Board of Education issued guidance to that effect in November 2002, and it plans to issue further guidance later this year in the light of the Admissions Code.

Most Church of England schools are in practice inclusive over admissions. I welcome the fact that Church of England schools in many parts of the country have really significant proportions of pupils of the world faiths other than Christianity and of no particular faith. One practical obstacle to inclusion, raised by Lord Dearing’s Report, is the patchy provision of Church of England schools, with one in four primary schools provided by the Church of England, but only one in twenty secondary schools - many of them dramatically oversubscribed. As a result of his report and government support, there has already been significant growth in the provision of Church of England secondary schools. We look to go further.

The majority of such ‘Dearing schools’ are serving more disadvantaged communities and have inclusive admissions policies. Most give priority to local children or do not admit on the basis of faith. Of the rest, only one has a proportion of places for local as opposed to faith priority lower than 50%, and that one school allocates 33% of places to those of other faiths and on a local basis.

What of the future? As chairman of the Board of Education and National Society, and as the Church of England’s spokesman on education in the House of Lords, I want to make a specific commitment that all new Church of England schools should have at least 25% of places available to children with no requirement that they be of practising Christian families. The places would not be left empty if they were not filled by such children, so this would technically not be a ‘quota’ but a ‘proportion’. This commitment relates explicitly to new Church of England schools.

It has been suggested that all ‘faith schools’ without exception should make this commitment. I want to be clear that I would not support that proposal. This is a commitment for the Church of England not a statement of policy for all schools with a religious character. As I have said before, the Church supports the provision of more schools by and for the faith communities. It would not be right, in our view, for Parliament to require the same commitment from them as well. They are themselves a sign of inclusion and their very existence promotes community cohesion, which would be further enhanced by the development of robust and effective educational links between schools of a different character.

The partnership in education between Church and State continues to develop. It is not built on expediency but on genuine mutual recognition, and a common interest in the welfare of every community and of the whole nation. It is a partnership to which we are fully committed.

 

Yours sincerely

 

+Kenneth Portsmouth

 

The Rt Revd Dr Kenneth Stevenson

Bishop of Portsmouth

Chairman, the Church of England Board of Education and National Society

 

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