Poll forces Church to re-examine way it teaches religion in schools

London, England - The Church of England is to re-examine its approach to teaching religion in its schools after a "surprising" number of people told pollsters that church schools promote "narrow religious teaching".

Nearly half of more than 1,000 people polled by The Opinion Research Business said that church schools are different from state run schools, more than a third said they were the same and the rest said they did not know.

But of those who said they were different, more than a third, or 158 people, said church schools “try and force their own opinions on children rather than giving a balanced view of other religions or ideas” and promote “narrow religious teaching”.

More than half of the same group felt that the sex education church schools provided was “incomplete or restricted” while nearly half said they felt that church schools discouraged open discussion of important social and political topics.

The survey comes as the Church is on target to open another 100 church secondary schools by 2011, mainly through the academies programme and in areas of economic disadvantage, increasing its existing number of secondaries by nearly half from 201. Ten new Church of England secondaries have already opened since 2001.

The Rev Jan Ainsworth, the Church’s Chief Education Officer, said: “These survey results are surprising, given that all Religious Studies syllabuses used in church schools require students to learn about at least the six major world faiths. We are committed to giving all our students a solid grounding in a range of faiths, to help all students engage with issues of community cohesion, diversity and religious understanding.

“That is why we support calls for the subject to be integrated into the National Curriculum, to further enhance standards of teaching and learning.”

The survey also found some uncertainty about the fairness of admissions policies, with a fifth of all those surveyed agreeing that “rules on admitting pupils to Church of England schools mean that children from better off backgrounds are more likely to get in” and that church schools create divisions between different sections of society.

Of those who said that church schools are different to other state schools, most agreed that church schools help young people develop a sense of right and wrong, that church schools help young people grow into responsible members of society and that they promote good behaviour and positive attitudes.

Colin Hopkins, director of education for Lichfield, said: “I welcome the results of this survey, which clearly demonstrates the broad confidence that many people have in Church schools. Church of England schools are an integral part of the maintained system of schooling, and are both distinctively Christian and inclusive institutions.

“Our schools serve the whole community in which they are located, including children from all backgrounds, faiths and traditions. In our Church schools, we are not pursuing a sectarian endeavour or attempting to proselytise children, but rather giving children and young people the opportunity to be part of a community based on Christian values.

“Our schools also help children to understand other faith traditions and the meaning of faith in people's lives. Church schools are popular with parents, many of whom welcome our schools' emphasis on values and their ability to give young people a sense of human dignity and a clear moral compass.”

But Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the religious think tank Ekklesia, and who has written a book on the relationship between the churches and Government said: "It is time for the Church of England to face the facts about how the majority of people - both religious and non- religious - see faith schools. There is clearly widespread concern about the discriminatory admission's procedures employed by church schools, what children are being taught and the social division that church schools may be causing.

"As the Church's own survey makes abundantly clear, and as opinion research keeps confirming, these are concerns held by a significant proportion of the population. The Church should stop trying to spin the figures. It is time for a constructive debate about the place of church schools and the place of religion in education more generally. Simply denying that there is a problem or trying to dismiss criticism as a purely minority concern, prevents such conversations from happening. As things stand, the public resentment, fear and distrust of faith schools will only continue to grow."