Church schools stand at the centre of the Church’s mission to the nation.
The school and Church are close together in partnership: the school and parish see themselves as in active association – as an extended community – together at the heart of the Church’s mission to the community.
No Church school, however, can be considered as part of the Church’s mission unless it is explicitly Christian and reflects the Church Of England Education vision to be ‘Deeply Christian, serving the common good.’
To put it in an historical context, the Church created schools in huge numbers in the nineteenth century to offer basic education to the poor at a time when the state did not. It did so to enable human beings made in the image of God to realise their potential and to escape from poverty and degradation. Today, the state is a willing provider, and the purpose of the Church in education is not simply to provide the basic education needed for human dignity. That purpose is to offer a spiritual dimension to the lives of young people, within the traditions of the Church of England, in an increasingly secular world.
The Church today still wishes to offer education for its own sake as a reflection of God’s love for humanity. But the justification for retaining and aspiring to extend its provision cannot be simply this, when the state is willing to provide as never before and when there are so many calls on the Church’s limited resources. It is, and must be, because that engagement with children and young people in schools will, in the words of the late Lord Runcie when he was Archbishop of Canterbury, enable the Church to
- nourish those of the faith
- encourage those of other faiths
- challenge those who have no faith
That nourishment, that encouragement and that challenge can only be offered to the extent that the Church has schools that are sufficient in number, sufficiently distinctive in their spiritual life.
In offering an invitation to children and young people from all backgrounds to participate in a Christian community, Church schools can provide a real experience of God’s love for all humanity. In a Church school, pupils not only learn about religion but they can also experience it as a living tradition and inheritance of faith. Church schools are therefore a unique gift from the Church to an increasingly secular culture.
Church schools are encouraged to
- ensure that the school is led by a headteacher who is committed, with the help of staff, to establish and maintain the Christian character of the school in its day to day activities and in the curriculum
- engage meaningfully in a real act of Christian worship every day
- offer a school life that incorporates the values of the Christian faith
- ensure that religious education is given at least 5% of school time and that the character and quality of religious education are a particular concern of the headteacher and the governing body
- observe the major Christian festivals and in schools in which other faiths are present ensure that those faiths are able and encouraged to mark their major festivals with integrity
- maintain and develop an active and affirming relationship with a parish church
- proclaim that it is a Church of England school on its external signboard and on its stationery and make appropriate use of Christian symbols inside and outside the school
All Church of England schools undergo a Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools (SIAMS). SIAMS inspections are carried out under Section 48 of the 1988 Education Act. They are overseen by the National Society and are arranged by the diocese. The purpose of SIAMS is to evaluate the distinctiveness and effectiveness of a school as a church school. The key question posed by SIAMS is:
How effective is the school's distinctive Christian vision, established and promoted by leadership at all levels, in enabling all pupils and adults to flourish?
The Education Act 2005, amongst other things, provided for a governing body in considering candidates for appointment to the post of headteacher
- in a Voluntary Controlled school to have regard to the candidate’s ability and fitness to preserve and develop the religious character of the school
- in a Voluntary Aided school to give explicit preference to committed members of the Church of England or other Christian churches
The same Act offered all Church schools the following ethos statement, which, on the whole, has been adopted only with minor amendments by most schools:
Recognising its historic foundation, the school will preserve and develop its religious character in accordance with the principles of the Church at parish and diocesan level.
The school aims to serve its community by providing education of the highest quality within the context of Christian belief and practice. It encourages an understanding of the meaning and significance of faith and promotes Christian values through the experience it offers all its pupils.
Church school status is enshrined in the school’s Trust Deed and it is therefore not possible for a school to become or to cease to be a Church school (other than by the complicated mechanism of technical closure of the school and the opening of a new school with a new identity on the site).