Posted: Wed, 13 Jun 2018
The increasingly assertive religious ethos of Church of England schools undermines the commonly-held idea that they aren't really faith schools. And, a teacher writes, the change is being driven by the church itself.
I have been teaching in a Church of England (VC) primary school for over a decade. At first I had no problem with teaching in a school with a Christian ethos. The values were basically simple humanitarian ones but framed as being based on Jesus's teachings about being kind. Assemblies often involved retelling a Bible story but focusing on the value behind the story rather than preaching. We said a simple, short 'grace' before lunch but it didn't seem like a big deal.
Over the years things have shifted. We had an influx of evangelical teachers and changes in the governing body. The new vicar was far more enthusiastic about his faith and seemed to use every opportunity to appeal to the children to come to the church – no doubt because the attendance was only a small elderly group. He was earnest about 'his special book' and overtly evangelical in his delivery.
After each SIAMS inspection (a check which evaluates how far a church school is a "distinctively and recognisably Christian institution"), a shift was happening. We lost the 'VC' part of the school name. A lengthy end of the day prayer was added. I even saw some teachers berating children for not joining in. Children were drafted in to help lead assemblies. Posters openly promoting God were on display along with more visual representations of our status as a church school.
Some staff found it difficult to separate their personal faith from their RE lessons; they didn't seem to understand that being a 'Church school' shouldn't mean proselytising to an audience who were mainly from non-religious families.
Things look to be getting worse. The church seemed to want to lose the distinction between VC and VA status schools (I would never have applied to work in a VA school). The Church of England claims to provide an education for pupils of all faiths or none, but I believe that is just a mask for their desire to evangelise to pupils (and gain possible converts from children not raised in the Christian faith).
The new syllabus for RE was written by a commercial organisation and the Christianity element was more akin to Bible studies (other faiths were covered in a more traditional way). Many of the Christianity units were based on the Understanding Christianity resource. This was rolled out as being suitable for teaching about Christianity in all schools, but disappointingly the balance between teaching the faith and teaching about the religion are blurred to the point that many parts of it are only fit for use in a Sunday school. This resource is promoted by the new Statement of Entitlement from the Church of England that expects a Bible studies approach to Christianity.
We're awaiting our next SIAMS inspection under the new framework. It concerns me that the new evangelical zeal of the Church of England is going to demand a more rigorous application of the 'Christian ethos' to allow all children to 'experience life in all its fullness' (coded language for believing in Jesus as their saviour). I feel that it is a desperate move by the Church of England to capture a new audience as the realisation that many churches are close to the point of collapse due to falling attendance. It's unlikely to work as parental support is so low.
My final remark has to be that I'm extremely grateful that my children's local school is not a faith school. If it was I feel I would need to withdraw them from collective worship and, quite possibly, RE. That would disappoint me greatly as I believe every school should be a school for all pupils whatever their parents' faith (or none). It's time to say a resounding NO to any more faith schools.
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