Faith overcomes flimsy doubts

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
Your contentious front-page opposition to the proposed expansion in Church of England secondary schools is marginally balanced by the reports inside ("Backlash against church schools drive", TES, February 23). But your antipathy is flimsily based.

Most will recognise that scientist Richard Dawkins's opposition to "sectarian" schooling based on the Northern Ireland experience is irrelevant to England and Wales - where a third of schools are church schools and many CofE schools in ethnically-diverse areas provide meeting points for different faiths where understanding and respect can grow.

Potentially more damaging is the report that dioceses are in the red and therefore unable to contribute to the expansion. A Church Times article did indeed refer to dioceses with current-account deficits. But these were mostly planned as dioceses take over funding for clergy pensions from the Church Commissioners. Problems in this area do not impact diectly on education capital expenditure, kept separate in diocesan accounting.

Moreover, parishes have demonstrated their willingness to raise money for causes such as schools. The proposed reduction in governors' contributions will certainly help here.

Your reporter found two clergy opposed to church schools. But most Anglican clergy and laity agree with the General Synod resolution that schools stand at the centre of the Church's mission. No one who sees the reality could say church schools are elitist; most serve their community, be it rural, inner-city, or suburban.

The Church of England proposes a modest expansion to 6 per cent of secondary provision. This should let diocesan boards of education and their local-authority partners respond to parental recognition of the value of education based on Christian values.

The Right Reverend Alan Chesters Bishop of Blackburn Chairman, Church of England Board of Education

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