08 October 2011
Church of England imposing changes on Rawlins Community College in Quorn
Whilst academy status may or may not be desirable, the issue I am attempting to address is the national one, where the academy legislation allows the C of E to effectively take control of the old Voluntary Controlled C of E schools (which were controlled by the local authority) and standard community schools. See http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/905
Dear Mr. Orr,
Rawlins Community College - Church Inspection
I was very concerned to read about the Church of England inspection in Raw Release (7/10/11) - page 3 - and the proposed changes to the way in which the college will work.
First of all, I think I should make clear that I am a member of both the British Humanist Association ( www.humanism.org.uk ) and Leicester Secular Society ( www.lsec.org.uk ) and I do not subscribe to any religion. My elder daughter attends Rawlins and, before reading the proposals in the report, my family had expected that my younger daughter would also eventually attend Rawlins.
Over the last few years my daughter has received a good comprehensive education at Rawlins and has "thrived and flourished" in the inclusive and diverse Rawlins community, to the extent that she is now able to apply for a place at Oxford University. The strengths of the college are recognised in the report. There are without doubt areas for improvement, but I fail to see that these are addressed in the "Church Inspection" report.
Rawlins has always been a Church of England Voluntary Controlled School and the system has worked well over the years, with the school following the former C of E ethos of promoting and working for a cohesive and just community without discrimination on any basis, treating all as equal and not making any special provision for Anglicanism. It would appear that the Church of England is now taking advantage of the Academies Act 2010 which gives the Church complete control over their curriculum (so long as it is ‘broad and balanced’), and also enables them to employ non-qualified teachers. This could not happen when the school was voluntary controlled. As I understand it, the move to a "Church Academy" will also enable Rawlins, if it so chooses in the future, to discriminate by religion in its admissions.
The recent consultation, that I was aware of, was on a change to academy status, not to a Church of England Academy, although the latter would appear to be the major change to school life. The most I seem to have read on the subject was in Raw Release 226 of 9 September ( http://www.rawlinscollege.org.uk/files/rawrelease/raw_release_226.pdf) which indicated that the school would "work with the Diocese of Leicester to explore exactly how being a C of E school can help our students". To me the reports proposals appear to be more about how the school can help the C of E gain more adherents, rather than help Rawlins students. Whilst Thomas Rawlins was certainly a Christian, as I understand it, he was a nonconformist, and would not have welcomed the wholesale takeover by the Anglican church.
The report lists three areas for "Focus for development" which I list below :
- Raise awareness of the college's Christian status with students, parents and community to ensure all are engaged in developing its distinctive church ethos
- Introduce more opportunities for students and staff to participate in acts of worship so that they can experience periods of quietness and reflection
- Develop links with the Diocesan Board of Education, other
church schools and specialists who can provide advice and
As for introducing more opportunities for participation in acts of worship, again I'm unaware that this is an issue with any meaningful number of students or staff at the college. I hope the Church is not going to advocate non-inclusive assemblies with ostentatious ceremony and that it will concentrate on periods of "quietness and reflection", as found within the Christian Quaker tradition. This would probably be in line with the thinking of Thomas Rawlins and appropriate in the Leicestershire context. The Society of Friends was founded by George Fox, born in Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire in 1624.
Whilst linking with other sectarian schools may be useful, I would suggest that links with local schools, regardless of religious affiliation, are more important.
The report then goes on to say :
"The college is now in a position to celebrate and promote explicitly its Christian values and foundation, and has identified its desire to do this at this point of time. Current documentation does not contain any references to the fact that Rawlins is a church school and there are no Christian symbols or displays around the school".
I would suggest that the lack of Christian branding is completely appropriate for a fully inclusive school. As soon as you start making it apparent that one section of the school community is regarded as being favoured, others are bound to feel uncomfortable. The current situation is beneficial for all, although certainly not optimal in terms of Church of England marketing.
The next section of great concern to me is:
"Previously, the leadership team and governors have not perceived Rawlins as a distinctively Christian college. The current principal and governing body are now clear that the college needs to reflect its Christian values more explicitly following the long-standing ambiguity about it Church of England status. .."
Whilst this is not explicit in the above, I understand that the Church of England's policy on its schools is still that of the Dearing Report of 2001 which can be found at http://www.churchofengland.org/media/1118777/way%20ahead%20-%20whole.pdf . This includes the following objective:
- Nourish those of the faith;
- Encourage those of other faiths;
- Challenge those who have no faith.
The final paragraph contains the following:
" Staff said 'we are very proud of the students for their contributions and enthusiasm for the activities and roles that are presented to them.' Parents are delighted with the standards and values that are demonstrated by the college. Many were not aware of the college's church foundation but welcome the move to promote the Church of England status more prominently."
Bearing in mind these comments were about the school without any great involvement by the C of E , what is advocated in the report that will directly benefit the school? As I read it, it appears to be more about what the college can do for the Church of England, rather than what the Church of England can do for the college.
I believe these matters should be of interest to the wider community, so I am copying this letter widely and will be posting most of its content to a blog on the Leicester Secular Society website at http://secsoc.blogspot.com/2011/10/church-of-england-imposing-changes-on.html .
There needs to be a structured protest at all of this. Theocratic encroachment is gaining momentum it seems and supported, inexplicably, by the government.
At 11 I withdrew myself from RE and assembly - no trouble getting my parents to write the note. I'd have thought a headteacher setting out to embarrass (does she really mean 'stigmatise') a child amounted to gross misconduct! Do follow vjohn82's url and read his blog post if you don't know what I'm on about!
One can withdraw themselves from RE and congratulations for doing so... although I fear you missed out on some good comedy ;)
I always remember my geography teacher crying because we laughed at her illustrated bible. Looking back it was mean, but she must have been unhinged and unstable but they let her teach children?
It scares me that religious groups have any influence over schools at all... I've seen the damage first hand that christian religious groups do to education by being involved with the Jehovahs Witnesses. Religious education should be totally unbiased and in this instance it is obvious that a good school is being used by a religious organisation to further their own goals.
I am saddened by the church of england, yet again.