Around one million children in England – a quarter of primary pupils and one in 16 secondary students – attend Church of England schools, which welcome those from all backgrounds. At a time when racial and cultural tensions appear to be on the rise, Church schools are valued more than ever by people of all faiths and none, according to the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer Nigel Genders.
Millions of people living in England today attended a Church of England school and millions more will have a child or close relative who has benefitted from the experience of a church school education. Each one of them will have been shaped by the education they received and will remember the dedicated teachers and leaders in 4,700 schools across the length and breadth of the country – schools that offer an education which seeks to form children and young people as they themselves help shape the world in which we all live.
The Church of England’s commitment to education remains as strong as it has always been and we have recently offered a fresh vision for education. At a time when many are looking for a vision of education to enthuse and inspire them, this deeply Christian vision of education is one that is generous and seeks to allow the riches of Christian life to overflow to those of other faiths or no faith, but who share the bigger vision of what we think education is for.
But some still seem surprised when they hear of Church of England schools serving people of other faiths. One commentator recently suggested that if, in a majority Muslim area, parents are sending their children to Church of England schools, then the natural step would be to turn those schools into secular schools instead of church schools. But not only is that illogical, it is to miss the point entirely.
“We are proud that our Church of England schools are modelling an education where no passports are required and the doors are wide open to the communities they serve.”
We constantly hear from Muslim parents who tell us that they choose our schools precisely because we take faith seriously and offer an approach to education that gives attention to spiritual as well as academic development. They welcome the opportunity to send their children to a school which will ensure mutual understanding of faiths whilst being clear about the Christian heritage and underpinning narrative on which its ethos and values are based. Like the millions of others who have attended such a school, they know that we prepare children for life in modern Britain and a world that is increasingly connected.
The last year has seen a worrying rise in the numbers of registered hate crimes and racial or cultural tensions. The increasingly nationalistic tendencies in countries around Europe and across the Atlantic lead some to conclude that we should build walls of division and implement policies that keep ‘others’ out. But we are proud that our Church of England schools are modelling an education where no passports are required and the doors are wide open to the communities they serve. At heart we are offering an education that is deeply Christian, serving the common good, and the millions of people who have had their lives enriched by such an education will be pleased to know that we continue to do so.