Church schools not 'creaming off' best students, says Lichfield Diocese

The Diocese of Lichfield has taken the unusual step of issuing a Rationale for Church of England Schools following a number of years in which the role of faith in schools has come under fire by commentators and sections of the media.

The dossier, compiled by the diocese's Director of Education, Colin Hopkins, defends Church of England Schools and says criticisms of them are often based on falsehoods and incorrect assumptions.

In it, Mr Hopkins explained the role the Church of England played in establishing thousands of schools around the country nearly 200 years ago to provide "elementary education for the masses at a time when the state did not". It took the 1870 Education Act for state schools to become established to supplement denominational provision.

In an interview with The Times, David Cameron unwittingly reinforced a widely held myth about Church schools when he came out in support of the so-called "middle-class parents with sharp elbows" who pretend they are Christian in order to secure a spot for their children at top Church schools.

Mr Hopkins, however, debunked arguments that faith schools are educationally selective or divisive, saying, "Our schools have a tradition of serving the whole of the community and neighbourhood in which they are located."

He said that meant Church of England schools were therefore serving not only children from Christian families, but also children from all backgrounds and faiths, as well as those of no faith.

"We are simply not engaged in a separatist or sectarian endeavour," he said.

Mr Hopkins continued: "It is sometimes alleged that Church schools are engaged in a covert process of social selection, 'creaming off' the best pupils. The reality is that, as inclusive institutions, Church schools will reflect the communities in which they are located.

"Very many of our schools are serving areas of significant socio-economic disadvantage, whether in urban or rural areas.

"Church of England schools were established in the nineteenth century 'to educate the poor', and we continue that honourable tradition by maintaining our institutional presence in some of the most difficult areas in society."

Mr Hopkins went on to celebrate the popularity of Church schools, saying it was down to more than just their success.

"It's not simply that they have good results (although that is undoubtedly a factor in their popularity). More fundamentally, parents have confidence that Church schools provide a sound moral framework and a context in which the development of the whole child is nurtured.

"Parents welcome the fact that Church schools have a culture rooted explicitly in a clear set of values and principles.

"At a time when children and young people are facing enormous pressures to conform to a prevailing consumerist and media-driven construct of 'success', many parents want schools that are able to impart to children a sense of human dignity and a clear moral compass."

He added: "Ultimately, the argument about Church (or "faith") schools resolves itself into a discussion about the kind of society we wish to be.

"Do we want to be a society in which religion is regarded as a purely private matter and relegated to the margins of public life and discourse (in which case it has the capacity to be a divisive force)? Or do we want to be a society in which religious expression is afforded an institutional involvement and presence within prescribed limits that are generally considered acceptable?

"The latter represents pre-eminently the Anglican settlement, which has served our nation so well. As the Established Church, within our educational role, we have the opportunity - and indeed the duty - to contribute to the well being of society."

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