Friday, February 11, 2005

Church schools

I am hoping that having titled this post, I will be able to remember what I wanted to say for long enough to finish it. The thought has been floating around my mind for a while, but it keeps flitting out of reach when I sit down at a computer, leaving me thinking to myself, "Now what was it I wanted to write about?"

There are quite a few C of E schools around - in fact, I am the governor of one. But one of the things that really rattles my cage is the admissions issue. Typically, church schools expect regular attendance at one of their approved churches. This may be a local Church of England church, or it may be a Churches Together church. Typically, "regular attendance" is considered to be once a month.

However, typically, it doesn't matter what involvement you might have with a "non-approved" church; if you are committed to a "non-approved" church, you might just as well be a complete pagan for all the good it will do you in terms of school admission. So the facts that: I am a deacon and church treasurer at one church; I'm helping with youth work and lay preaching at another church; and our family would aim to be present not only at both Sunday morning and evening services but also midweek meetings - none of these facts count for anything in terms of admission to these foundation schools.

OK. Well, that comes across as absurd to most of the population, who are frankly shocked that "committed Christians" should effectively be discriminated against in this way. But it at least has some logic - because this sounds as though the effect ought to be to steer people towards the "approved" churches. Doesn't say much for Christian unity, or the universal church, but at least it encourages churchgoing.

However, what is happening - and people in the "approved" churches must be aware of this - is that a fair proportion of people do what they have to, to secure a place for their children at these schools. So if they are expected to be there once a month, they will go once a month. They will go and speak to the minister and get him/her to write a letter on their behalf to confirm their regular attendance - and having secured the place, they stop going. Their contribution to the life of the church is negligible. In other words, the sort of "practising Christian" that this produces bears absolutely no resemblance to the Biblical model of Christianity.

Now, surely the diocesan authorities must be aware that people are manipulating the system to get their children into schools. And yet they are prepared to allow it to continue. Is it because it is preventing the total collapse in size of many basically dead congregations, I wonder?!

More seriously, many of the Churches Together churches are no longer preaching the gospel. So people are being put under social pressure to attend churches where they won't hear the gospel - in some cases, people choose to attend these churches over gospel-proclaiming churches simply because of the fact that it will allow them to get their children into a faith school. Do leaders of these churches understand that the blood of these members of the congregation is on their head??!


Kansas Bob said...

Interesting situation. Are church schools in the UK like ones in the US? By-in-large the non-Catholic ones here are more like prep-schools that focus on kids that have their act together. I was wondering if the UK church schools helped children that are hurting from issues around pain and grieving?

Paul (probably - maybe Liz) said...

Thanks for the comment - it's nice when people come back! I'm not sure, but I don't think that there is any really direct connection with the US system. Foundation schools in the UK are another strand of the state system - in other words, "free", not fee-paying. They were established by foundation, rather than federally oras part of the regional government - in other words, by money raised by e.g. a church diocese, or subscription. This is normally partly out of the social policy of the founding organisation, and (particularly in the case of some more modern foundation schools) out of a desire to provide an alternative to secular, state education - but this group of schools aren't the ones that this issue really relate to.

In terms of places offered, the admissions policy is basically approved by the governing body - the governors are the "devolved authority" for most schools in the UK. In the case of traditional foundation schools, this is often strongly influenced by the diocesan authority's example policy. Typically, up to 30% of places will be foundation places - requiring evidence of "commitment" (if once a month can be called that) to a place of worship that is acceptable to the diocese (which in most cases will exclude any evangelical churches) - and the rest will go to siblings of existing pupils, and then be allocated in order of distance pupils live from the school.