The Church’s role in ed­u­ca­tion works!

The Church of England - - THE RECORD - PAUL RICHARD­SON

At a time of de­clin­ing con­gre­ga­tions and fi­nan­cial con­straints the Church of Eng­land has man­aged to ex­pand its mis­sion in one very im­por­tant area: ed­u­ca­tion. As An­drew Ado­nis points out in his new book Ed­u­ca­tion, Ed­u­ca­tion, Ed­u­ca­tion, the Church was an early sup­porter of acad­e­mies and now spon­sors more of them than any other or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Some­times acad­e­mies have re­placed fail­ing C of E schools but more fre­quently dio­ce­ses have got be­hind them as a way to fur­ther the Church’s so­cial mis­sion by open­ing schools in de­prived ar­eas. Open­ing acad­e­mies has also been a way to rem­edy the im­bal­ance be­tween the large num­ber of C of E pri­mary schools and the much smaller num­ber of sec­ondary schools.

It is a trib­ute to the Church that most lo­cal au­thor­i­ties wel­come it as a spon­sor. In the case of acad­e­mies the Church has usu­ally opted not to have faith-based ad­mis­sions so the schools can­not be seen as sec­tar­ian or di­vi­sive. Not all C of E acad­e­mies have been a success. Ado­nis men­tions two in South Lon­don that have run into prob­lems. One of them has had to seek an ad­di­tional spon­sor. But by and large the Church de­serves praise for a lead it has taken in a devel­op­ment that has im­proved ed­u­ca­tion for the bet­ter.

Ado­nis him­self, of course, de­serves the most credit for a change he con­ceived and in­tro­duced de­spite a great deal of op­po­si­tion. His book should be read not only for the light it sheds on ed­u­ca­tion but for the in­sights it of­fers into pol­i­tics in mod­ern Bri­tain.

A key point Ado­nis makes is that the real di­vi­sion in pol­i­tics is of­ten not be­tween the Right and the Left but be­tween the rad­i­cals and the con­ser­va­tives. There was a great deal of sus­pi­cion of acad­e­mies in the Labour Party but as Ado­nis re­marks, there is no way they can be seen as right-wing un­less ed­u­ca­tional fail­ure is some­how re­garded as left-wing and in­vest­ment and re­form to com­bat it are seen as a re­ac­tionary trick.

NUT of­fi­cials were vo­cif­er­ous cam­paign­ers against acad­e­mies, yet an­other sign that pro­vid­ing good pub­lic ser­vices of­ten means be­ing ready to take on hide­bound trade union­ists. Not all union mem­bers fall into this cat­e­gory but some are al­ways ready to re­sist re­form. Many lo­cal au­thor­i­ties re­sisted acad­e­mies and chief ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cers can be more ide­o­log­i­cal than politi­cians.

Civil ser­vants were an­other prob­lem for Ado­nis, not so much be­cause of out­right op­po­si­tion as be­cause they are ill-pre­pared to man­age ma­jor pro­grammes of change. Few of them stay in the same job for more than two years. To do so is seen as a mark of fail­ure. There is lit­tle con­ti­nu­ity of man­age­ment and of­ten lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence of what is hap­pen­ing at the coal face. As a min­is­ter, first in the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment then in Trans­port, Ado­nis got out and about, vis­it­ing schools and trav­el­ling on trains. One of the im­pres­sive features of his book is how much Ado­nis knows about in­di­vid­ual schools.

Ado­nis does not re­fer di­rectly to his own faith. He was ed­u­cated at King­ham Hill School, an evan­gel­i­cal foun­da­tion orig­i­nally de­signed for or­phans and des­ti­tute boys from Lon­don’s East End. Like Tony Blair, Ado­nis is no ide­o­logue. He started his life in pol­i­tics as a mem­ber of the So­cial Demo­crat Party. In­stead of be­ing mo­ti­vated by trib­al­ism he sees pol­i­tics as a way of chang­ing the world for the bet­ter. He is ready to recog­nise a prob­lem for what it is and call a spade a spade, even when it is not po­lit­i­cally cor­rect to do so.

As a re­sult, he was clear eyed about the com­pre­hen­sives even though it was not fash­ion­able in the Labour Party to crit­i­cise them. He saw that many of them sim­ply rep­re­sented a con­tin­u­a­tion of the sec­ondary mod­erns. They lacked sixth forms or teach­ers with good de­grees ready to in­spire pupils to aim for the top. They also lacked the in­de­pen­dent, ef­fec­tive gov­er­nance that had of­ten been a fea­ture of the gram­mar schools. Only rarely were they in­spired by vi­sion and an ethos that en­cour­aged learn­ing.

By cre­at­ing acad­e­mies as in­de­pen­dent state schools, Ado­nis aimed to rem­edy some of the de­fects of the sec­ondary mod­erns.

He recog­nises that other mea­sures need to be taken as well. A key to im­prov­ing ed­u­ca­tion is the re­cruit­ment of able, young grad­u­ates from top univer­si­ties as teach­ers. Ado­nis is not afraid to sound elit­ist about this. Pupils in de­prived ar­eas of the coun­try have as much right to be taught by the bright­est and the best as pupils at Eton or West­min­ster.

Acad­e­mies are lead­ing to im­prove­ments although there are those that fail. Par­tic­u­larly in Lon­don stan­dards are ris­ing. A num­ber of pri­vate schools have turned them­selves into acad­e­mies. Ado­nis is en­cour­ag­ing univer­si­ties and pub­lic schools to be­come spon­sors and he has achieved some success.

Although Labour has yet to de­cide whether it sup­ports free schools, Ado­nis re­veals they started on his watch un­der a dif­fer­ent name. They are really part of the academy sys­tem.

The story of how Ado­nis set about chang­ing ed­u­ca­tion in Bri­tain is a rare ex­am­ple of a politi­cian driv­ing through re­form against vested in­ter­ests, in­clud­ing those in his own party. The Church of Eng­land can be proud of its own role in the story.

An­drew Ado­nis

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