War Memorial Gary Trouton

Faith Schools

February 2002

The former headmaster of James Bradfield School offers his opinion

I have read the articles and comments by Ron Watts with great interest. (Thank goodness for Ron and Les, and the richness they bring to the pages of the Pump every month).

However, I think Ron needs to visit a few "faith" schools and to find out what they are really about.

Since retiring from the headship of the James Bradfield school (a C of E School in the Ely Diocese), it has been a great pleasure to be one of a group of thirty or so visitors who try to cover all the "church schools" between them.

I manage about six visits a year to each of three schools, and include one that is not a church school, too.

Many church schools were founded back in the early 1800's, a few even earlier. In 1870, they were incorporated into the state system of education, but kept their trust funds intact. In the last 20 years, old foundation trust monies were collected under the diocesan umbrella.( In the Ely Diocese, this is called the "Barchester Fund") Funds could then be more effectively used to help with building improvements across the diocese The minority (Aided schools) continue to have substantial help from their Diocese with new building finances: "Controlled" schools have only a one-third Diocesan Representation on their Governing body and receive almost no financial help, but can call on a large body of support and expertise from Education staff based in Ely..

However in the last two years or so, schools have been given the chance to again choose "Aided" status and to have closer links with their Diocese.

Presumably, the same rules apply to other faiths' schools.

A few years ago, whilst doing a degree course, I did a survey of parents' views of church schools. Most parents gave the impression that they were glad that their children attended a "church" school, even though they did not subscribe to any particular faith themselves.

As I go around these schools, and also do days of supply teaching in others, I do notice the differences in ethos and atmosphere. This area of Norfolk is fortunate in having some really first-class primary schools (in villages within ten miles of Stoke Ferry) They welcome visitors to share in their special atmosphere where the spiritual is an implicit part of everyday life.

(One way of remembering the educational range is the word "SPIES": Social, Physical, Intellectual, Emotional & Spiritual)

I am in no way saying that non-church schools do not do an excellent job, just that many parents drive significant distances to have their children in a church school, where children are being introduced to EVERY aspect of human thought and understanding.

But please, Ron, be sure that there is no indoctrination or preaching. Children are always left to make up their own minds, and as they get older (9, 10 or 11 yrs old) given opportunities to learn about ALL the main world faiths so that they have an appreciation of how others live and believe. Quite the opposite to other faiths being "rubbished" in fact. Schools always try to be balanced and certainly positive.

All state schools, including church schools follow a syllabus for R.E., which lays down the elements of Christianity and other faiths, which are to be taught each year. Schools also have a daily assembly in which the "worship" element is of a Christian nature. Church schools in city areas where there is a much greater "mix" of ethnic groups report that parents of other backgrounds still prefer their children to attend a school with a Christian foundation, because of the implicit spiritual element in the ethos.

It is also true that while schools have children for about six hours each for 180 days in the year, parents and the community at large have them for the other 185 full days, and 18 hours every school day, too. (Parents 88%: School 12%) Prejudiced attitudes are much more likely to be gained from outside the school than within. I quite agree that horrific things have been and are being done in the names of all religions, but "religion" is not "faith".

Jesus Christ boiled the Ten Commandments down into just two: Love God: Love thy neighbour as yourself. (Not much room for bigotry there you would think.) Faith schools try to build their codes of social behaviour on these simple rules. Non-faith schools may be less certain about the first.

Chris Young

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