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Church matters

Schools of Reconciliation, By Priscilla Chadwick, Cassell Pounds 35. 0 304 33140 6, Pounds 14.99. 0 304 33142 2.

Among my professional scars are those earned during the consultations which ultimately led to the founding of a joint AnglicanRoman Catholic Primary School in Chelmsford.

I therefore approached this new book by Priscilla Chadwick with considerable interest. I was not disappointed. The book provides an accessible introduction to issues that affect church schools, and by telling the stories of two joint AnglicanRoman Catholic schools founded in very different circumstances gives those issues a particular focus.

The book is divided into five sections. The first surveys the issues that have to be addressed within the English education system by church schools and the sometimes distinct Anglican and Roman Catholic viewpoints on these. This is an impressive survey which makes good use of the growing literature on church schools. Among other points it draws attention to the sharpening of thinking that is required of both Anglican and Roman Catholic schools and educators that results from the implementation of a wide range of government policies.

There follows a section on the development of the first of the ecumenical schools on which the book focuses, St Bede's in Redhill.

The third section provides a survey of the issues that have to be addressed in Northern Ireland. Reading this section those who make judgments about church schools in England based on their perceptions of the experience of church schools in Northern Ireland should take warning.

Comparison between this section and the first highlights how different that experience can be. The fourth section follows the development of Lagan College in Belfast.

Finally Chadwick draws some conclusions which could inform the future development not only of joint schools but also of ecumenical co-operation in education generally. If it is not always clear whether the reader is to understand that these conclusions are based on the detailed study of the two schools alone or on the author's wide knowledge of the churches' involvement in education that does not reduce the importance of the challenges that she presents.

Too many of those who work in education are ill-informed about church schools despite the fact that they account for a third of the schools in the maintained sector.

This is an important book, not just for what it says about joint schools but also for the introduction which it could provide to the more specific literature on church schools produced by both the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.

David W Lankshear is School's Officer of the Church of England, Board of Education and The National Society.

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