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Validation partnership announced

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 similar institutions.   

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 partnership.

"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 at Durham."

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 courses.

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 studies. 

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