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C of E rebukes 'sniping' lobbyists

Traditionalist critics of the Church of England's education policies have suffered an unprecedented attack from a senior figure in the Synod's Board of Education, who has accused them of sowing division through political connivance.

Until now the Board has disdained to reply to the high-profile lobbying of the Christian Institute, a traditionalist evangelical group with a number of influential political contacts including Conservative peer Baroness Cox and Church Commissioner Michael Alison MP.

In its recent publication RE:Changing the Agenda, the Institute accused the Church of failing to back the cause of Christianity in religious education, and of running down its system of schools.

The reply from the Church's religious education officer, Alan Brown, has been sharp. His article in next month's British Journal of Religious Education rebuts the allegations and accuses the Institute of "sniping at others toiling in the same vineyard".

Although the piece expresses Mr Brown's personal views, senior figures at the Board of Education are also thought to have been enraged that a number of prominent MPs were briefed with criticisms of the Church behind the Board's back.

Mr Brown's article urges the CI and its director Colin Hart to work with the Church rather than against it. "Mr Hart is to be congratulated for obtaining a degree of publicity for his utterances and writings but it has to be questioned whether he is actually doing a service to the cause that others (including many whom he ungenerously and unfairly is prone to criticise) share with him. "

The CI was particularly concerned at the publication by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority of nationally agreed syllabuses which it regards as insufficiently Christian.

The institute was angered that a proposal for a legal minimum of 50 per cent Christianity was, in its opinion, ditched at the behest of non-Christian faith groups.

As a result, says Mr Hart, "the membership of any future RE committee of SCAA should have the approval of the Secretary of State".

Mr Brown takes particular exception to this statement. "It appears to imply special pleading," he writes. "Does Mr Hart, a lobbyist by profession, have a private line to the Secretary of State? Does this mean that political influence and patronage should take priority over professional and academic acumen? Is this a recognition that academic and educational debate should take second place to political influence? Perhaps this is the clearest statement of Mr Hart's changed agenda."

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