Church schools are maintained schools and academies, which are designated as having a 'religious character'.
The vast majority of Church schools were established as voluntary schools with the aim of helping to improve the life chances of the poorest in society, before the requirement for compulsory state education.
Today, Church schools continue to serve their local communities offering a distinctively Christian education that is available to all, irrespective of their religious, social or cultural background.
The distinctiveness of Church schools is lived out in their character, ethos and values which are derived from the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Character, Ethos, Values and Spiritual Development
“There is no such thing as neutral education. As soon as we begin to teach something to someone else, we are inevitably making value judgements about what we are teaching, how we are teaching it and why we are teaching it. Any decision we make about what or how to teach contains within it an implicit understanding of the human condition, of what is important in life, of the relationships we want to foster, and of what is worth learning, knowing or questioning.” [‘The Fruits of the Spirit’, 2015]
In Church of England schools and academies the ultimate purpose of education is seen as the promotion of ‘life in all its fullness’ (based on John 10:10) – developing people who can flourish in all areas of their lives. This requires that Church schools focus on the whole child addressing the intellectual, spiritual, moral, and physical attributes at the same time as inculcating the essential tools for learning.
The Church School of the Future Review (2012) expressed it in this way,
“putting faith and spiritual development at the heart of the curriculum and ensuring that a Christian ethos permeates the whole educational experience.”
This will require a rich, broad and meaningful curriculum which makes explicit the outworking of the school’s Christian character and enables all its pupils to know they are of immense worth and that they can make a valuable contribution to their local communities and the wider world.
Character Education is embedded both in explicit formal teaching and in also experienced through being part of a community. It will involve specific pedagogies, which enable deeper exploration of spiritual, ethical and cultural questions and will be based on a distinctively Christian interpretation of shared human values and virtues and an understanding of what it means to be human and to live well. It will include learning to value difference and to disagree respectfully as well as developing a sense of self and contributing to the common good.
Ethos and Values
"Ethos has all the features of a yeti – it is never really observed but it leaves its footprints to reveal its presence and has a life and a reality of its own.”
[Alan Brown, 2011]
In a Church school the hallmarks of its ethos will be those of a Christian community seeking to live out its values in service to its children and families. Therefore distinctively Christian principles will be threaded through all aspects of school life, from whole schools policies and procedures, the curriculum topics and pedagogical approaches, to the quality of relationships with staff, pupils, parents and the wider community.
This will include a Christian interpretation of the British values agenda, the absolute requirement to safeguard children and the promotion of equality and well being. It is the beliefs that underpin the values, which make them distinctively Christian; Beliefs about God, about what it is to be human, about the Church and about the World.
There is no single exhaustive list of ‘Christian values’ but they can be summed up by three which underpin all the others: faith - hope - love
The Christian Values 4 Schools website lists fifteen values and provides a distinctively Christian theological understanding of each.
All schools are required, within the national curriculum, to promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils. In church schools each person is seen as a spiritual, embodied being living in community. Therefore spiritual development will play an important part, within a reflective, enquiring approach to learning.
Opportunities to reflect, explore, dream, ask questions, delight in wonder and mystery need to be woven into all parts of the learning experience, not just religious education (RE) and collective worship, although these will play a vital role.
Spiritual development includes opportunities to explore deep within the individual, with the world around them and to encounter the possibility of a transcendent dimension to life that may or may not be linked to a religious faith or tradition.
Church schools should be places where God is talked about naturally and without apology and where it is safe to question, express doubts as well as belief (however tentative or fleeting). Where a life enhancing encounter with the person and teachings of Jesus can nurture a growing Christian faith, encourage those who follow another religious tradition to deepen their faith and provide opportunities to explore the beliefs of others, without presupposing any personal commitment.
Christian values for schools
The Archbishop of York’s Young Leaders Award
The Fruits of the Spirit – A Church of England Discussion Paper on Character Education (2015)
Valuing All God’s Children - Guidance for Church of England Schools on Challenging Homophobic Bullying (2014)
What If learning