Methodist response to government education plans

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

Kathleen Wood, Education Officer for The Methodist Church, saysthat the proposals will create opportunities for the Church todevelop new ecumenical schools. Failing secondary schools are to berelaunched as academies, and The Methodist Church has already hadthree invitations to join the Church of England as a partner in newacademies. Kathleen says that she hopes that many Methodists willsee these as an opportunity to affect inner-city education amongthe most disadvantaged.

Kathleen says there are potential problems with some of theproposals. The increased number of specialist schools, designed toprovide extra choice, is a potentially difficult area. "The resultsfrom specialist schools so far looks good," says Kathleen , "but itis very early to create a national policy based on the limitedexperience currently available."

Another new policy will encourage popular schools to expand. Butsays Kathleen , "some may not want to, or have the space to do so.Others may think that they risk losing the school's character ifthey grow significantly. Methodist Church policy is to promoteexcellence 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 controlof budgets. Kathleen says that this will be popular with many headteachers, "but what happens to tiny village primaries, an areawhere The Methodist Church is very involved? LEAs are currentlyworking hard to retain such schools, but cannot do so without someflexibility in funding."

Kathleen also questions whether the timing of the proposals isright, with the 14-19-year-old curriculum also facing massivechanges.

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