Survey reveals widespread distrust of church schools

By staff writers
November 19, 2007

A survey commissioned by the Church of England has revealed widespread distrust of church schools.

In what will be a blow to both church and government which has supported new church schools, the results of the survey conducted by Opinion Research Business (ORB) on behalf of the Church show that significant proportions of the population believe church schools discourage open discussion of important social and political topics, that children from better off backgrounds are more likely to get into them and they create divisions between different sections of society.

Many also believe that church schools try to force their own opinions on children rather than giving a balanced view of other religions and ideas.

Two sets of questions have been released from the survey today (Monday). The first was to ask how different Church of England schools were considered to be, when compared to state schools run by local authorities.

Under a half (45%) of those questioned considered church schools to be different from state schools.

These 45% where then asked for their opinions about church schools. Of these a majority agreed with statements that church schools, like other schools, helped to develop a sense of right and wrong, provided a broad and balanced education, had a caring approach and produced good behaviour.

However, only half believed they achieved better educational results than other schools.

Just over half (51%) also felt that the sex education they provided was 'incomplete or restricted', and just under half (47%) said they felt that church schools discouraged open discussion of important social and political topics. Over a third (35%) said they believed that church schools tried to force their own opinions on children rather than giving a balanced view of other religions or ideas. The same percentage said that children in Church of England schools were "exposed to narrow religious teaching".

There was further bad news for the church over admissions procedures. 45% said that the rules on admitting pupils to Church of England schools mean that children from better off backgrounds are more likely to get in. Only marginally fewer (43%) said they believed the schools created divisions between different sections of society.

The Church of England tried to put a brave face on the results today (Monday) issuing a press release claiming "Getting top marks: People of all faiths and none back church schools’ popularity".

It did however admit that it the survey "presents a challenge to the Church to explain more clearly how church schools approach the teaching of religious studies."

The Revd Jan Ainsworth, the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, said in a statement: “These survey results are surprising, given that all Religious Studies syllabuses used in church schools require students to learn about at least the six major world faiths. We are committed to giving all our students a solid grounding in a range of faiths, to help all students engage with issues of community cohesion, diversity and religious understanding. That is why we support calls for the subject to be integrated into the National Curriculum, to further enhance standards of teaching and learning.”

The Church also conceded that: "The survey of those who perceive differences between church schools and other state schools also suggests that there is still uncertainty about the fairness of admissions policies used by the former, with 45 per cent of those surveyed agreeing that “'rules on admitting pupils to Church of England schools mean that children from better off backgrounds are more likely to get in'."

It however pointed to the survey's findings that just over two thirds of respondents to the survey realised that church schools give some places to children of all backgrounds.

The Church at both national and diocesan level has consistently defended the right of Church Schools to discriminate in admissions, giving priority to those who attend churches linked to the schools. This is despite the fact that most church schools are almost entirely funded by public funds. One quarter of all primary schools are church schools.

Jan Ainsworth however defended the policy, and questioned why parents without a faith would want to send their children to a church school. “There is nothing socially selective about suggesting that those seeking a school place because of the importance they attach to Christian faith should attend church regularly in order to demonstrate that connection" she said. "Speaking bluntly, if parents are opposed to attending worship it is difficult to see why they would be seeking a place at a school with a Christian foundation and ethos.”

The Church of England plans to open another 100 church secondary schools by 2011, mainly through the academies programme.

You can read the full survey results here

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