JOINT ANGLICAN – ROMAN CATHOLIC SCHOOLS
The English Anglican Roman-Catholic Committee (ARC) is a bilateral body that promotes good ecumenical relations between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in England. English ARC has supported Joint Church Schools over many years. We now commend the following briefing and guidelines to the bishops, clergy, education specialists and parents of our two Churches and would welcome comments.
Schools with a religious character, known popularly as ‘Faith Schools’, are much in the news and sometimes generate controversy. Secularists would like do away with them. Among the so-called ‘Faith Schools’ is a large number of Church Schools. What is much less well known is the existence of joint Church Schools, of which most are Anglican – Roman Catholic (there are also some Anglican-Methodist Joint Schools). Joint Church Schools are particularly relevant today in new housing areas and where the churches are invited to take over a failing school. Joint Church Schools promote the virtues of mutual respect and understanding of differences, while sharing many common beliefs and practices. The spirit of the Government initiative 'Every Child Matters' has motivated our Church Schools for nearly a century.
Church Schools, whether Anglican, Roman Catholic or Joint, help to support Christian families in fulfilling the responsibility, assumed at the baptism of the child, to bring up that child in the Christian faith. Home, school and parish share in that task, though parents are the primary nurturers of their children’s moral and spiritual formation.1 Both Churches believe that Church Schools should be distinctive Christian institutions, grounded in the faith of the Church, where gospel values inform the life of the community, and that they should be fully integrated into the life of the local parishes. Christian teaching, including preparation for Confirmation, should be available. Both Churches recognise their responsibility to serve the whole community and to work for the common good in the sphere of education, as elsewhere.
In September 2007 the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales made this statement in their ‘Pastoral Letter on Catholic Schools’:
Catholic schools are guided in all they do by an important and coherent vision of education. This vision is based on the truth revealed by God about ourselves, our life together in community and our ultimate destiny with God. This gives rise to an educational endeavour centred on the person of Jesus Christ who is our Way, Truth and Life
WHAT JOINT CHURCH SCHOOLS STAND FOR
Like all Church Schools, Joint Church Schools are committed to the principles enunciated in ‘Faith in the System’. This means that they should:2
promote community cohesion. The providers of Church Schools, including Joint Church Schools, welcome the duty imposed (from September 2007) on the governing bodies of all maintained schools by the Education and Inspections Act 2006 to promote community cohesion. Ofsted monitors this.
work in a spirit of partnership with the local authority and the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and welcome the involvement of local authority governors as members of their governing bodies.
offer high standards of education.
endeavour to promote ‘Every Child Matters’ and to meet the needs of all their pupils.
work in partnership with other schools and organisations from the voluntary and statutory sectors and play a full role in the local Admissions Forum and Schools Forum.
safeguard and promote the welfare of all their pupils and, like all schools, link with the Local Safeguarding Children Board.
respect the dignity and rights of every person in the school community. Every person, both pupils and staff, of all faiths and none, should be accorded the dignity and respect that is their due.
nurture young people in the faith of their family.3
Above all, we must be able to say of a Joint Roman Catholic – Anglican school: ‘It is a Catholic school,’ and: ‘It is an Anglican school.’ In other words, it is all that the Roman Catholic Church requires of a Church School and all that the Church of England requires of a Church School. But it is also more than that: it is an expression of what the Second Vatican Council called ‘the real though imperfect communion’ that exists between our two Churches, and of our commitment to work for full visible communion between them. A Joint Church School is a sign of the reconciliation and shared discipleship that the Christian gospel brings.
STATE SUPPORT FOR CHURCH SCHOOLS
It was the Churches, not the State that first provided education for children in England and Wales. The Church of England established the National Society in 1811, with the commitment to provide a church school in every parish. The aim of the founders of the Society was that 'the National Religion should be made the foundation of National Education'. The enterprise was hugely successful: 17,000 schools were built by 1851. The provision of schools was seen as a service to the whole community. Church of England schools, over the past 150 years, have maintained the twin roles of providing a good general education for life in the community and of nurturing children in Christian faith and practice.
The Balfour Act of 1902 established what is commonly known as ‘the Dual System’ by which Church and State co-operate to provide Church Schools funded in part by the State.4 The Butler Act of 1944 further developed this approach, which established the framework of the present system of co-operation between Church and State in education. The legislation applied to both Roman Catholic and Anglican institutions and committed the State, through the granting of Voluntary aided or Voluntary Controlled status, to meet in full the cost of running maintained (as opposed to independent) Church Schools and to contribute to the cost of building and maintaining their buildings. The government grant for maintenance has increased from 50% in 1944 to 90% at present.
The subsequent years saw an out-pouring of ecumenical activity, so much so that in 1990, when speaking to Churches Together in England just after the Roman Catholic Church became a full member of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Cardinal Basil Hume was able to say: ‘Spirituality, social action and education are for me priorities which we can and should address together.’ The particular approaches of the Roman Catholic Church and of the Church of England with regard to schools converged sufficiently to lead to the creation of a number of joint Anglican – Roman Catholic Church Schools throughout England.
St. Cuthbert Mayne School, the first joint Church of England – Roman Catholic school, opened in Torquay, in 1973. This was followed by the opening of St Bede’s School, Redhill in September 1976, which replaced two separate denominational schools: St Joseph’s Roman Catholic School and Bishop Simpson Church of England School. The schools had first approached each other in 1972 with a view to establishing a joint sixth form, as only the Anglican school had been able to acquire funding for a sixth form, but discussions soon developed into a plan for a joint school. There are now about twenty joint Anglican – Roman Catholic schools, most of which are secondary.5 Further initiatives are in the pipeline.
The late Lord Dearing’s review of Church of England schooling in 2001strongly affirmed the value of Church Schools and called for the creation of an additional one hundred Church of England secondary schools. The great majority of these are now either already open or committed and further major expansion, especially of Academies, is now being planned. The Dearing Report also emphasised the importance of an ecumenical approach, giving further support to Joint Church Schools.6 Schools in both Anglican and Roman Catholic dioceses are also working in partnership with other providers to meet the requirements of the extended school agenda and 14-19 revisions. As in any partnership it will be important that Christian schools maintain their identity while contributing to the common good of society.
Since 2000, the Academies Programme has led to the creation of Church of England academies such as Greig City Academy in Haringey, and the Roman Catholic St Paul’s Academy, Greenwich. Each academy has a particular subject specialism, such as business or sport. Other single denomination academies have been created for Leeds, Bradford, Lewisham, and Westminster, among others. The first joint Anglican – Roman Catholic academy opened in 2005 in Liverpool. The Academy of St. Francis Assisi is jointly sponsored by the Anglican Diocese of Liverpool and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Liverpool and specialises in the environment. This was followed in September 2008 by the opening of North Huyton Academy, which also specialises in the environment, and is jointly sponsored by the Catholic Archdiocese and the Anglican Diocese of Liverpool. The expansion of housing provision in designated areas provides a new opportunity for the churches to work together; mostly these new schools are open to any provider through competition, and attract 100% funding from central government.
More recently, the government has stressed the need for faith schools in general to teach more about other religions. This is certainly not a new agenda for Church Schools. Church of England controlled schools are bound by the local Agreed Syllabus, which for the last 30 years have all prescribed the teaching of the major world faiths in addition to Christianity. Church of England aided schools usually follow the local diocesan syllabuses, which have also for many years included teaching about other faiths. Pope John Paul II urged all Catholics to respect and esteem ‘the values, traditions and convictions of other believers’, and called for dialogue and openness.7 In 1997 the consultative document ‘The Catholic School and Other Faiths’ reminded schools that they should ‘find ways in which its pupils can learn to engage in dialogue and develop an attitude of respect for religious diversity’. It noted that this would necessitate the inclusion of a broader study of both Christianity and other faiths.
A national conference for Joint Church Schools held in Sheffield in the autumn of 2005 encouraged the development of further joint Roman Catholic – Church of England schools where two conditions were met:
dialogue between the churches at diocesan and local level had arrived at a shared understanding of the mission of a Joint School, and
a clear legal basis had been established which specified and protected the interests of all parties in the enterprise.
GUIDELINES FOR JOINT CHURCH SCHOOLS
Drawing on the experience of existing Joint Church Schools, English ARC recommends the following guidelines to all with an interest in Joint Church Schools, especially bishops, clergy and Christian parents:
Commitment to Christian unity, rather than financial considerations, should be the prime motivating force for the creation of a Joint Church School from two single denomination schools. Joint Church Schools may emerge out of particular local circumstances (e.g. falling pupil rolls), but they should also be considered on principle when new schools are being planned.
Wherever possible, the Trust Deed of the school should be held jointly and there should be joint ownership of the site.
Other churches in the local community should be kept abreast of developments in plans for the school and, where possible, involved in them.
The expected ratio of Anglican/Roman Catholic pupils should be reflected in the capital investment and contributions to ongoing maintenance.
Joint Church Schools should not do separately what could be done together. Education and nurture into the Christian faith can and should be a joint commitment.
The different traditions should not be regarded as a threat to each other. They should come together on an equal footing and provide a potential source of enrichment to each other, because by discovering the riches of other traditions, the riches of one's own tradition are more fully appreciated.
Joint Church Schools should not be seen as institutions that water down the differences between church traditions. They can be effective instruments in ecumenical formation, with a keen awareness of the distinctive features of the respective traditions.
A Joint Church School should seek the support and involvement of the parents and the local community. All the dioceses involved should also take the responsibility for furthering the aims of the school in the local community and it is vital that the local clergy play an active role in supporting the school.
The members of the governing body should not merely have regard to the interests of their own particular Church, but should take responsibility for the development of the school as a whole.
It is essential that each denomination appoints a chaplain and that the two chaplains work well together as part of a chaplaincy team, liaising closely with the staff and the parish clergy.
The whole school should come together in joint services of the Word,, but it is also important to provide opportunities for worship in denominational groups (especially from time to time at the Eucharist).
When appointing staff, after Christian commitment and professional considerations have been taken into account, priority should be given to those committed to Christian unity.
The search for truth must be carried out in such a manner that is appropriate to the dignity of the human person and their social nature, and the freedom of individuals to make their own response to God must always be respected.
If students from non-Christian faiths are admitted into the school, they will certainly enrich it, but they will be expected to respect the Christian foundation of the school; however the school should provide for the spiritual development of all students.
The good practice of Joint Church Schools should be shared both within and across diocesan boundaries.
CURRICULUM ISSUES IN JOINT CHURCH SCHOOLS
There is a national non-statutory framework for Religious Education, to which most local SACRE syllabuses and diocesan syllabuses conform, and this has contributed to a greater congruence of syllabuses. It is the responsibility of the governors of each Joint Church School to decide what is right for their circumstances, after looking to guidance from the Framework and from their dioceses. The Trust Deed of a Joint Church School will normally also identify the framework for RE within the principles and practices of both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches though this will probably be in very general terms, which will need interpreting by the governing body. The extent to which RE is fully ‘joint’ differs from one school to another, though in most cases the degree of joint teaching is considerable. In secondary Joint Church Schools, most pupils will be following one of the GCSE syllabuses for that phase of their education.
There is an assured place for denominational teaching in all Voluntary Aided schools and this may need to be substantial in joint schools. One would expect, however, the overlap to be very considerable most of the time.
For Roman Catholics, syllabuses should comply with the Bishops’ Curriculum Directory. Denominational teaching is not an add-on but a prism through which to understand the rest of the curriculum, both religious and general. Currently, work is being done on developing curriculum guidance for religious education for 3-14 year olds in Catholic schools and colleges. The foundations for good teaching and learning in religious education will build on the following criteria:
A secure subject knowledge and understanding of the five ways of thinking that underpin the delivery of the RE curriculum: scripture, tradition, interpreted experience, human reason and faith.
The differing relationships that exist between these ways of thinking to support teaching and learning.
Understanding the relationship between these ways of thinking that supports learning about and learning from the Catholic faith and the differing cultural backgrounds of students in England and Wales today.
Recognising the potential impact that curriculum RE may have upon students: experiences of learning that develop knowledge and understanding of Catholic faith and life; developing appreciation of human identity and answers to the great questions of life; opportunities for them to hear the gospel (evangelisation) and to respond and grow in faith (catechesis).
Acknowledging the personal contribution that the teacher makes as witness to Catholic faith and life, coinciding with the value and benefits that they demonstrate to students in studying curriculum RE.
For Anglicans the most recent statement on RE Excellence and Distinctiveness8 recommends the use of the local Agreed Syllabus with additional material designed to give additional knowledge of Anglican history and practices. In 2006 the North West Anglican dioceses produced Guidance on RE in Church of England Secondary Schools, which identified good practice in secondary RE and the different expectations in regard to learning about Christianity and other religions. In both reports the national objectives for RE were affirmed: that pupils should both learn about religion and learn from religion. In other words, the contribution of RE to each pupil’s spiritual journey, regardless of their faith background or none, is an integral part of the RE task.
WORSHIP IN JOINT CHURCH SCHOOLS
As Joint Church Schools develop their ecumenical curriculum and pastoral care they will want to explore opportunities for worship for the whole school community – opportunities that go beyond daily assemblies or festival celebrations (e.g. Harvest, Christmas) Two Joint Schools commented in 2004:
‘The worship life of the School is central to our community. Staff and students work together to devise acts of worship.’
‘We are a single community, so worship together naturally.’
Joint worship will normally be non-eucharistic. However, there are occasions when it will be appropriate for a Eucharist or Eucharists to be celebrated in the school. The two Churches’ different rules on eucharistic sharing mean that arrangements for eucharistic celebrations have to be thought through very carefully. The Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission’s statement on Eucharistic Doctrine (1971) achieved substantial agreement in eucharistic theology.9 Bringing together distinctive denominational traditions in a Joint Church School is not about ‘fudging’ differences. It is about drawing on the strengths of each tradition and – especially important for young people – explaining these differences openly. Difference can be welcomed, divisiveness not.
In 2007 the International Anglican – Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission recommended that the two Churches should ‘consider the development of joint Anglican – Roman Catholic church schools, shared teacher training programmes and contemporary religious education curricula for use in our schools’.10 Joint Church Schools represent a remarkable opportunity to realise in practice what the Second Vatican Council called the ‘real though imperfect communion’ that exists between our two churches, to educate children with a sense of what we share in faith and what still divides us, and to model for our society a culture of mutual respect and understanding between distinct communities. English ARC believes that Joint Roman Catholic – Anglican Church Schools can be beacons of prophetic witness to the Christian faith in our society and can play their part in the ecumenical journey towards the full visible communion that both our Churches are committed to seeking.
Interested in learning more?
Useful contacts for Anglican – Roman Catholic relations generally:
Church of England
The Revd Canon Dr Paul Avis, Council for Christian Unity. Church House, Great Smith Street, London, SW1P 3NZ, tel: 020 7898 1470; fax: 020 7898 1483; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mgr Andrew Faley, Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, 39 Eccleston Square, Victoria, London, SW1V 1BX, tel: 020 7901 4842, fax: 020 7901 4821,
Church of England
The Roman Catholic section of the Council for Christian Unity’s webpages at:
The Schools webpages on the main Church of England website at:
The National Society at:
The Catholic Education Service at:
The Committee for Christian Unity in the Department for Dialogue and Unity at:
Joint Schools: A Discussion Document on Ecumenical Education, English Anglican/Roman Catholic Committee, (Canterbury Press Norwich, 1987, ISBN: 0 907547 95 8 or Fowler Wright Books, 1987, ISBN: 0 85244 1142)
Chadwick, P., Schools of Reconciliation. Issues in Joint Roman Catholic-Anglican Education (Cassell, 1994).
Chadwick, P., Shifting Alliances: Church and State in English Education (Cassell, 1997)
The website of the Department for Education and Skills at: