Church schools and the future

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Commenting ahead of the publication of the Church of England's new 'Church School of the Future' report on 23 March 2012, Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, said:

"All education providers, along with government, need to be putting the needs of our diverse and changing communities first, not prioritising their own institutional interests.

"Many would argue that this ought particularly to be the case for Christian bodies, given the outward-looking nature of the core Gospel message and Jesus' challenge to the religious and political establishments of his day."

"The Church of England wishes its foundation schools, which are overwhelmingly funded by general taxpayers from a variety of belief backgrounds, to maintain a 'Christian ethos'.

"If this is to be workable in a diverse society as well as loyal to the message of Christianity, such an ethos needs to reject outright the favouring of one group, and to make service of neighbour - not least those who are poorest or pushed to the margins - the centre of its concerns.

"The proof of such a stance would surely be the rejection of discrimination on grounds of faith in any school, genuinely inclusive policies on disability and combatting homophobia, and the promotion of values such as conflict transformation, social justice, hospitality and peacebuilding.

These are values which people from all backgrounds can be properly encouraged to affirm, as well as having many distinctive narratives attached to them, not least Christian ones.

"Seeking to maintain privilege and power for the Church in public education is not, in fact, a Christian approach, but a denial of it.

"Greater clarity about this is a prerequisite for a better debate about taxpayer funded and supported schooling in a plural society.

"The 'Church School of the Future' report, which has been circulated for advance media comment, needs to be carefully evaluated in these terms following its formal publication on 23 March 2012.