University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

The Church of England and religious education during the twentieth century

Parker, Stephen ORCID: and Freathy, R. (2020) The Church of England and religious education during the twentieth century. In: The Church of England and British Politics since 1900. Studies in Modern British Religious History . Boydell & Brewer, Martlesham, Suffolk, UK. ISBN 9781783274680 (hardback) 9781787448209 (ebook)

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This essay considers the Church of England’s policy towards religious education in fully-maintained schools without a religious character in twentieth-century England and Wales. At first glance, religious education may seem to be a minor aspect of ecclesiastical and political history.Yet, it is very revealing in several respects. First, the Church has always been committed to the religious education of the whole of the people in England and Wales, not least through schooling. It has consistently taken the view that,as the national Church,it has the cure of all souls, regardless of faith. Such is the Church’s commitment to the religious education of all, that its attitudes on this issue towards schools without a religious character is difficult to distinguish from those in its own Church schools.Second, policies on religious education maybe regarded as a barometer of the dynamic between Church,state,other denominations, other faiths,and those of no faith. Education has been an issue on which the Church has always sought to exercise a role in the public sphere, locally as well as nationally, regardless of the population’s self-declared religious sensibilities.Third, despite the relentless decline in affiliation, as measured by baptism and confirmation statistics,the Church has maintained a significant influence within education. Across the twentieth century the Church has obtained states upport and patronage for its schools, with the costs of buildings, repairs and staffing increasingly borne by locally-drawn revenues and the national exchequer. In 1903, there were 11,687 Church of England schools educating 2,338,602 children, forming around 40 per cent of the school population. By 2000,the proportion of children educated in the Church’s schools had fallen to around 20 per cent, that is 924,000 children. However, in parallel with this decline, the Church negotiated a retention of its direct influence over the nature, purpose and content of religious education in the wider maintained sector,chiefly as a result of the 1944 Education Act, which required Local Education Authorities (LEAs)to constitute Agreed Syllabus Conferences to prepare, adopt and reconsider syllabuses of religious instruction,and permitted LEAs to constitute Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education to advise the authority upon relevant matters. The Church has also shaped developments in religious education by means of the financial resources available to it through the Church college trusts, which emerged from the shrinkage in the Church-college sector during the 1970s.Moreover, the Church has extended its reach and influence in religious education beyond Church schools, particularly during the post-Second World War period, through its network of diocesan advisers. Their role has become all the more important and influential with the gradual demise of support by local authorities for religious education,from the Thatcher period onwards. How this came to be is recounted below, by examining the dominant opinions within the Church on religious education across the century, as they emanated from bishops, dioceses, church commissions, the Church’s National Society, and the Church’s Board of Education and diocesan.

Item Type: Book Section
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Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: studies in modern British Religious History, History of Religion, Modern History, Church of England, religious education, twentieth century, England, Wales
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Education
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Depositing User: Stephen Parker
Date Deposited: 13 Feb 2020 15:16
Last Modified: 06 Nov 2020 16:24

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