Christian soldiers

The Church of England leads the fightback against secularism

David Marley

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The rise of so-called "militant" secularism is a major cause for alarm among religious groups, prompting fears that they are losing their position at the heart of public life.

The response from the Church of England this week has been to call on its schools to lead the fightback. Schools should be "robustly asserting" their Christianity, church leaders have said.

According to the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, who chairs the CofE national board of education, it is time for its schools to be more explicit in matters of faith.

"We need to point to the roots of our values, that they lie in our Christian faith, and that the life, death and new life of Jesus Christ is a touchstone for us," the bishop told TES. "We want to mandate schools to be much clearer on their Christian identity."

The bishop's comments came as the CofE today published a major report into how its schools should respond over the next five years to the rapidly changing education landscape. It has laid out a series of reforms in response to the academies programme, which the government hopes will include the vast majority of schools.

The Church School of the Future review sets out ambitious plans to increase the influence of the CofE by opening new schools and providing services to non-religious schools that are no longer catered for by emasculated local authorities. The Church needs to promote its "brand" and is ready to take on secular groups and other academy chains to ensure that its role is not diminished by current reforms, it said.

"Our schools are a gift to the nation," said Bishop Pritchard. "They have been serving communities for more than 200 years and are very popular with parents.

"But the report is clear that we must be careful to protect their distinctive nature, especially amid pressure from groups who would prefer that we were not involved in education at all."

The bishop said that faith and spiritual development should be "at the heart of school life" and inform everything the school does "unashamedly".

His call for schools to be more overtly religious follows comments he made last year that CofE schools should cut the number of places reserved for children of the faith to a maximum of 10 per cent.

However, the Rev Janina Ainsworth, the CofE's chief education officer, said there was "no contradiction" in promoting deeper study of Christianity even if schools take fewer religious children.

"What we are particularly concerned about at the moment is the quality of teaching about Christianity," she said. "Every child is entitled to have that kind of profound engagement with Christianity and to learn more about Christianity than other religions because of its role in the history of the country."

Mrs Ainsworth said this would help children with their spiritual development and insisted that it was not a way "to turn out good, churchgoing children".

Elsewhere, the report was heavily critical of the government's reforms on RE, which does not count towards the English Baccalaureate measure of exam performance.

It said that ministers were promoting a "utilitarian" approach to education by focusing on a fact-based curriculum. Priscilla Chadwick, the chairwoman of the Church School of the Future review, saChristian soldiersid that moral and spiritual aspects of education were being "pushed aside" by the current curriculum - claims that the Department for Education has consistently refuted.

Keith Porteous Wood, director of the National Secular Soci-ety, said that the CofE's desire to "target captive children in schools" was motivated by rapidly falling attendances in churches on Sundays.

"The Church thinks the answer is to turn up the volume of the message in schools, but the stronger the message, the greater the resentment by non- Christian parents whose children are subjected to such a strident message," he said.

Church service

The Bishop of Oxford has said that up to 200 new Church schools could open over the next five years, taking the total number to 5,000.

The CofE is also due to revise its guidance on free schools, which could lead to its expansion in this area. The Church is currently actively involved in only two proposed free schools.

Elsewhere, the CofE will offer services to non-faith schools and will allow them to affiliate with its local diocese.

Original headline: `Our values lie in the death and new life of Jesus Christ'

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David Marley

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