C of E could answer state school prayer

Matt Rodda investigates a novel move to raise education standards
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The Independent Online
THE Church of England plans to take over a state school and use the high reputation of its own schools to help it raise standards. The Regis Secondary School, Wolverhampton, will become The King's CoE School if the change of status is approved by David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education.

The plan indicates a new relationship between the Church and the Government and could lead to more initiatives in areas of low educational standards. It was developed jointly by Wolverhampton Borough Council and the Church's Lichfield diocese, which includes the town.

The idea follows the headteacher of a local church school, Peter Crook, becoming a "super head " in overall charge of the Regis school. His school, St Peter's Collegiate CE School, has good exam results and is popular with parents, with 40 to 50 appeals for places every year. He said: ''We are unlocking a hidden resource. Respect for the Regis school is growing and church involvement is playing a central role.''

Attendance has improved and teachers hope the change of ethos will increase the percentage of youngsters getting five or more GCSE passes. Twenty-five per cent of children at the school achieved that level last year, compared with an average of 33 per cent in Wolverhampton and 55 per cent at St Peter's.

''Parents feel they know what church schools are and that they educate the whole child, giving a moral and spiritual dimension,'' Mr Crook said.

He has been acting head of the Regis school since autumn 1996. A consultation was held about making the school into a church school, which would also require the church to buy the buildings. Mr Crook commented: ''People have said 'More power to your elbow' when they heard about the scheme.''

Bob Jones, chairman of the Labour-controlled local council's education committee, said the scheme would help to meet parents' demands for a better standard of education. It would also give the council an injection of capital from the sale, possibly about pounds 800,000, although a final figure has yet to be agreed.

Geoffrey Duncan, generalsecretary of the C of E General Synod's board of education, said: ''We want to join with the Government to raise standards. We are very encouraged by the way the partnership between the Church and the Government is working at the moment. This is one of many things that illustrate the growing partnership at a local level. It is interesting and encouraging.''

Margaret Smart, director of the Catholic Education Service, said the Roman Catholic Church might consider joint projects with the C of E such as the Wolverhampton one.

The minister responsible for school standards, Stephen Byers, said the Government valued what the important role played by Church schools. He described the relationship as ''open, constructive and positive''.

But Mr Byers was unable to comment on the situation in Wolverhampton because Mr Blunkett was currently deciding whether the Church could take over the Regis school.