Church in Wales' faith schools reform

18th September 2009 at 01:00
Expansion and perception overhaul aims to save institutions from being `semi-detached'

Original paper headline: Church in Wales reform fights to future-proof faith schools

The Church in Wales (CIW) is planning to expand the number of religious schools as part of a radical vision for the future of the country's faith-based education.

The ambitious pledge is set out in a wide-ranging review that aims to dispel myths about church education and capitalise on school reorganisation by local authorities.

More than 21,000 children are already educated in CIW schools under voluntary-aided, voluntary-controlled or foundation agreements despite falling school rolls across the country.

But the CIW Education Review Group concluded that the relationship between the church and Wales's education system is unclear and needs to be formalised.

The group called on the Assembly government and religious representatives to produce formal guidance on the role of faith in schools and urged for an end to the term "faith school", which it described as judgmental and unclear.

Under the review recommendations a new body would be set up to establish a formal church educational policy, keep a database of CIW schools and develop a national training scheme for heads.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, said church schools had become "semi-detached" from the rest of education and welcomed a dialogue on their future.

Members of the review group vowed that the church's partnership with the state education system would be dynamic and prepared to embrace change.

"The group is committed to a view of the CIW's contribution to the national education system that is growing, not declining," they said.

One in 10 primaries in Wales are already managed by the CIW but under the plans many more English and Welsh-medium institutions may open across the country.

The review cited evidence from the Fischer Family Trust that showed CIW schools achieved slightly higher value-added scores in core subjects at key stage 2 than other primaries.

In a bid to dispel myths about church education it also reviewed admissions criteria for CIW primary schools. It found that three-quarters gave priority to children who lived in the local area as opposed to whether their parents attended church.

A small survey undertaken for the review found that parents chose church schools because of their distinctive Christian character and their perceived "high standards".

But Dr Dixon said parental demand for a religious education should be the primary reason for setting up a new church school.

"They would have to establish that the demand was not about creating a selective education that excludes different classes, creeds or intellectual abilities," he said.

The review admitted that some CIW schools did not adequately promote their religious work.

"It is disappointing that so little space is given to these topics in many (school) brochures other than bland statements about the vicar coming in to school," it said.

A further proposal is to put the new church education body in charge of Section 50 inspections of the Christian character of CIW schools, which are currently overseen by faith inspectorate Gwella.

This includes inspection of collective worship, religious education, spiritual and moral development, and personal, social and environmental education.

The Reverend Edwin Counsell, education adviser for the CIW, believes the review group's report has come at a critical time.

"We have long felt that our schools make a positive contribution to the development of pupils," he said. "This report has, for the first time, started to measure that impact."

A spokesperson for the Assembly government said it would consider the recommendations and respond in due course.

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