Exclusive: Church of England not interested in opening new grammar schools

The chief education officer of the Church of England also tells Tes that all schools – religious or not – would benefit from having a chaplain on the staff

Adi Bloom

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The Church of England is not interested in opening any grammar schools, despite Theresa May’s plans to reintroduce selection, according to its chief education officer.

The CofE currently operates 4,700 schools, but plans to open an additional 125 free schools by 2020 – more than a quarter of the total number planned for that period.

But, asked whether the CofE had any plans to open grammar schools, Nigel Genders told Tes: “We’ve been very clear that, because we think every child is important, we want to develop more schools that are meeting the needs of all pupils, irrespective of whether they’ve got high academic ability or not.

“How do we provide a school where there isn’t currently enough education for the children in the area, and meet the pupils’ needs? That’s our priority. And that means opening schools for the whole community.

“It’s about serving the needs of the many, not just the few.”

Instead, he said that he plans to extend church schools’ involvement in settings for pupils with special educational needs, by setting up special schools and alternative-provision units. And he is looking into opening schools with technical specialisms.

Mr Genders made his comments as the government was working on its detailed proposals for how new grammar schools will be introduced, after launching a Green Paper last year.

A chaplain 'benefits any school'

Mr Genders, a former school chaplain himself, also said that all schools – church or otherwise – would benefit from having a chaplain on the staff, to help to develop the different elements of pupils’ characters.

“The provision of pastoral support for school communities is really important,” he said. “Chaplaincy’s a good approach to that. And our evidence is that schools that have got chaplains – they play a really vital role.

“I wouldn’t want to draw a straight line between counselling service and chaplain, because it’s a different approach. But the students talking to me knew that it wasn’t part of their report, that it wasn’t going to go back to their head of year. That feels important in this area of work – that you’re a neutral voice. You aren’t there as someone who’s going to tell the teacher.”

Mr Genders added that church schools prioritise the development of children more than secular schools do.

“I think sometimes we need to be more honest about what the different drivers are,” he said. “One of the biggest drivers in the education world at the moment is economic prosperity. So everything is seen through the lens of, 'Is this going to help this child become a viable unit of economic prosperity?'

“That’s important. But it’s not the only thing that’s important. We say, 'They also need to learn how to love their neighbour, and how to serve their community, and how to develop those dimensions of their character.' And that’s our driver.”

This an edited version of an article in the 7 April edition of Tes. To read the full profile of Nigel Genders, click here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTes magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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