Church of England sets out vision for further education engagement

(Photo: Unsplash/Mikael Kristenson)

The Church of England is seeking to expand its involvement in the further education sector.

In stark contrast to its extensive involvement in schools and universities, the Church of England has few links with the further education (FE) sector. 

A new report, 'Vocation, Transformation, Hope', calls for a "culture change" across the Church to start seeing FE as a priority area in its engagement with children and young people.

Launching the report, Tim Dakin, the Bishop of Winchester and lead bishop for further and higher education, said the Church must address its "lack of systematic engagement in such an important part of our educational and social landscape".

The report describes FE as being "essential to national productivity", social mobility and helping people discover their vocation, and adds that it fits in with the Church's commitment to justice as a sector that "provides new opportunities and second chances". 

Elsewhere, it proposes that the Church create a group of colleges to further its involvement in the sector. 

"Our Biblical narratives are rich in imagery of the value and dignity of work, the call to life in all its fullness, and the imperative of identifying with and serving the poor and marginalised," the report reads. 

"Those dimensions of the good news need to reach the institutions where around 2.2 million people study, among whom there are almost twice as many 16-18-year olds as in school sixth forms, and over 100,000 students following higher education courses.

"And doing that requires us – as Paul did in his day – to use the most up to date ways of doing so."

Other areas for exploration and expansion include chaplaincy provision and diocesan partnerships with local colleges.

The report is especially excited about the role the Church can play in helping to provide quality skills-based education as the economy adapts to the post-Covid world, new technologies like AI, and emerging service industries. 

"The requirement for higher levels of skill and competence in using new technologies will need to be matched by much greater flexibility about roles and careers," it reads.

"This will demand higher levels of creativity and innovation than many jobs currently require. The coronavrius pandemic has further exposed the fragility of a largely consumer economy and generated new working practices.

"It has also brought out into the open structural inequalities, among them poverty and discrimination, which also engage the church in its proclamation of justice, the value of the whole person and the whole country and its mission of loving the poor and bringing hope to the next generation. These imperatives are also shared to a large part by those who lead and work in colleges." 

Commenting on the vision, Bishop Dakin said he wanted to see churches develop "lasting relationships" with colleges and "build a younger and more diverse church".

"Further Education colleges transform the lives of individuals and train many of our nation's essential workers," he said.

"They are crucial anchor institutions for communities, they cradle innovation and success, and offer new opportunities and second chances.

"Our vision for further education invites and challenges church leaders to see the sector in a new light, one in which God is already actively present.

"It encourages appreciation of the dynamic nature of the sector, its impact upon individual lives and its valuable contributions to society.

"The Vision encourages churches to affirm and speak up for those who work and learn within further education. It points to ways in which churches can take practical steps to make these aspirations a reality in a post-Covid world."