Church schools urged to practise what they preach

Church schools urged to practise what they preach

London, UK - May 7, 2009 Church of England schools have been urged to practise what they preach following the launch by the Church of England today of a new promotional website www.ChristianValues4Schools.co.uk.

The website, which contains a video message from the Archbishop of Canterbury, features a section on the values upon which church schools are supposed to be based, with biblical verses and theological explanations.

Under the section about 'Justice' the Church of England talks about: "acting out of a concern for what is right and seeing right prevail", "especially for those who suffer most and are least able to protect themselves."

It stresses that: "[j]ustice is not about a culture which encourages everyone to insist on their own rights at the expense of others. It is about a community that knows that everyone's well-being is bound up with that of everyone else."

However, in practice the Church of England has repeatedly defended discriminatory employment and admissions policies for its schools. These put the interests of children who attend churches before others in the community. They prevent those who do not hold Christian beliefs from applying for jobs at church schools. Yet these schools are almost entirely funded by the taxpayer. One third of primary schools are church schools.

Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, who was a governor at a Church of England school for four years, said: "It is most welcome that the Church of England has set out what it means by a 'Christian ethos' for its schools. But what is now abundantly clear is that the Christian ethos that the Church seeks to promote is fundamentally at odds with the practices of many of its schools.

"Discriminatory admissions and employment policies not only undermine the community ethos of a school, they are also at odds with the core values of the Christian faith.

"By the Church's own definition, Christians should want schools based on social justice, which it specifically says 'is not about a culture which encourages everyone to insist on their own rights at the expense of others. It is about a community that knows that everyone's well-being is bound up with that of everyone else's.' It is time for the Church to put into action what it believes.

"A good start would be for the Church to meet with parents whose children who have been treated unfairly by Church schools and whose children have been prevented from attending Church schools because they aren't of a Christian faith," said Bartley.

The Church has previously argued that discrimination in employment and admissions is necessary to maintain 'a Christian ethos'. But Ekklesia points out that there are barely enough Christian head-teachers in the country to provide even half the existing Church Schools with a head, let alone all of them. Similarly, it is only the oversubscribed church schools which discriminate in admissions. Unless the Church is saying that these schools have lost their Christian ethos, it is clearly not the case that discrimination is necessary to maintain the ethos of a church school, says the think-tank.

Notes to Editors

1. Ekklesia is a thinktank which examines the role of religion in public life. Independent of the churches it formed in 2002. It was listed amongst the top 20 thinktanks in Britain by the Independent Newspaper in 2005. It has raised £250,000 each year for the last four years to promote peace, justice and development work around the world. It is a not-for-profit company limited by Guarantee, and works on a co-operative basis.

2. Ekklesia is a founder member of the Accord Coalition which seeks to make faith schools better. Accord also includes the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the British Humanist Association. www.accordcoalition.org.uk

3. The Church of England's new website about church schools can be found at: www.christianvalues4schools.co.uk The website statement about justice can be found at:
www.christianvalues4schools.co.uk/pdfs/theological_backgrounds/Justice.pdf

4. Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley will set out ideas for the reform of church schools when he delivers the Hugh Price memorial lecture on Tuesday 12th May, in central London.