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Thursday, 14 June, 2001, 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
Church of England schools to expand
The Church of England plans to raise millions of pounds to create an extra 100 secondary schools over the next seven to eight years, as the government prepares to increase its subsidy for church-sponsored schools.
Under its plans to revitalise secondary education in England, the government has promised to cut the amount religious organisations must contribute towards a school's capital costs from 15% to 10%, freeing funds for extra places.
The Church of England currently has 4,540 state primary schools, but just 204 secondaries - with some getting 160 applications for every 100 places.
A report from a church committee, chaired by Lord Dearing, says there are 150,000 places in church secondary schools, compared to 775,000 places in primaries - which means that only one in five children moving up from a Church of England primary can be offered a place.
This "major imbalance" in provision between the two sectors must be addressed, Lord Dearing says.
The report recommends the church sets up a national fundraising task force to raise £25m for the new schools and regionally-based support groups to assist dioceses with expansion.
The Church of England is also keen to expand its provision in areas of economic and social hardship, reaching out to those "who have least in life".
"It was the call to serve the poor that took the church so magnificently into education in the 19th Century," the report says.
"Today the church is still committed to serving those in the most deprived areas of society, in the inner city and in rural areas where deprivation may be less visible because it is dispersed, but no less real."
"In an increasingly secular society, the seedbed of young Christians from whom Christian teachers can be drawn needs to be nourished," the report says.
If the church cannot recruit staff for its existing schools and those planned, nothing will be achieved the report authors warns.
"Parishes should repeatedly put before people what it means to be a Christian teacher and, in appropriate cases, encourage a vocation to teach," Lord Dearing said.
And the church must find ways of recruiting teachers from ethnic minority groups.
Singling out those individuals of leadership potential for church schools was paramount.
"We would recommend that the response must include action now to identify, on a national basis, diocese by diocese, Christian teachers of all ages - young and old - who have the potential to provide the necessary leadership.
And the report urges the church to push the government to reduce the administrative burden on head teachers.
The Bishop of Blackburn and chair of the Church of England board of education, Alan Chesters, said the church wanted to offer provision to the growing number of parents who sought a Christian education for their children.
"This report is a celebration of church schools in the new millennium, a unique gift from the church to the nation, places of hope and faith, where all people are valued and respected as individuals," the bishop said.
Paul Hollingum, head teacher at Raines Foundation School - a Church of England school in east London - could fill his places seven times over.
"Church schools are very successful - I believe that success is based on clear ethos and clear purpose," he said.
But church school selection policies have been described by some as discriminatory.
"As a parent I feel that these schools, in their selection policies, do discriminate against those who aren't regular church goers.
"And they're state funded, so where's the justice in that?"
The government's plans to expand church schools have been criticised by humanists and those in favour of a secular society.
Robert Ashby, executive director of British Humanist Association, said the long-term good of a multi-cultural society was best served by top quality integrated education.
"While one might view Church of England schools at present as very positive and welcoming of non-religious and non-Christian children, the proposal to strengthen the Anglican character of these schools would be an exclusive move," Mr Ashby said.
The National Secular Society has published details of a survey which suggests 79% of parents thought it was wrong to separate schoolchildren on the grounds of religion, as this separated them according to their colour or accent.
'Not so popular'
Executive director of the society, Keith Porteous Wood, said this showed the concept of religious schools was not as popular as the government or the Church of England maintained.
"What parents want are good schools, not religious schools.
"The success enjoyed by some church schools can be put down to the privilege they have of selecting children from supportive and middle class homes - faith has nothing to do with it," he said.
The government, though, is keen to see more single-faith schools, believing that religious schools perform better than mainstream comprehensives.
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