12 July 2004

Methodist response to government education plans

The Methodist Church has made its initial response to the Government's planned changes to education.

Kathleen Wood, Education Officer for The Methodist Church, says that the proposals will create opportunities for the Church to develop new ecumenical schools. Failing secondary schools are to be relaunched as academies, and The Methodist Church has already had three invitations to join the Church of England as a partner in new academies. Kathleen says that she hopes that many Methodists will see these as an opportunity to affect inner-city education among the most disadvantaged.

Kathleen says there are potential problems with some of the proposals. The increased number of specialist schools, designed to provide extra choice, is a potentially difficult area. "The results from specialist schools so far looks good," says Kathleen , "but it is very early to create a national policy based on the limited experience currently available."

Another new policy will encourage popular schools to expand. But says Kathleen , "some may not want to, or have the space to do so. Others may think that they risk losing the school's character if they grow significantly. Methodist Church policy is to promote excellence for all pupils, regardless of which school they attend. The expansion of popular schools cannot accommodate all students, and so what happens to those who lose out?"

Another tricky area is allowing schools to have complete control of budgets. Kathleen says that this will be popular with many head teachers, "but what happens to tiny village primaries, an area where The Methodist Church is very involved? LEAs are currently working hard to retain such schools, but cannot do so without some flexibility in funding."

Kathleen also questions whether the timing of the proposals is right, with the 14-19-year-old curriculum also facing massive changes.

The 2004 Methodist Conference directed the Methodist Council to consider the new opportunities in education. Kathleen says that "at a time when the school scene is changing dramatically, and when churches have the best opportunity for over a century of contributing to state education in a variety of ways, the Methodist Council must provide flexible policies that allow local Methodist churches and circuits to respond to local needs."

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