I can’t quite shake off a parallel which has emerged in my mind between the way the Government has long invested its hope of raising standards in education with the way the Church of England is now investing its hope of reversing decline, much of which is visible again in this week’s paper from the House of Bishops about the principles of church planting.
For a long time, the Government has been robust in centrally shaping stronger inspection regimes which focus on specific definitions of success. Mechanisms are sought for the expertise of successful schools or academy chains to be shared with failing neighbours. New powers allow the creation of additional Free Schools and the expansion of those Grammar Schools which are visibly the best performers according to the criteria it has set. New funding streams are made available to be bid for to make these developments possible.
The House of Bishops’ paper speaks of its own responsibility for ‘disruptive leadership’. I’ve noted before the way the patterns of ministerial development review involved in the last changes to terms of clergy tenure (2009) narrow down on identifying specific objectives. There is encouragement for growing churches and for the networks of which they are part to act as ‘resource churches’ reinvigorating declining neighbours. The mechanism of Bishops’ Mission Orders has been available since 2011 for the direct episcopal authorisation of church provision additional to that of the local parish. The Church Commissioners now has Strategic Development Funding into which dioceses can bid.
There is always the fear that we are unconsciously influenced by secular norms around us, but perhaps we are simply catching up with self-evidently best practice.
Meanwhile, the field next door to our house has been mown this week.