The National Education Conference at The Hayes in Swanwick this week gathered together 150 diocesan education officers and directors from all over England and also Wales to reflect on and plan for the future of those million children in Church of England schools. I was there with Dr Ann Casson (NICER Senior Research Fellow) to speak about a couple of our priorities and we all heard really exciting stories of the impact research is having on Church schooling in our country.

Ann spoke about the work she was doing disseminating the Lessons from Spiritual Development, the 10 case studies of Church secondary schools that show how those schools ‘do’ spiritual development and she spoke about what spiritual development means for children at those schools. This includes children of all different faiths and none as that work revealed compelling evidence of the power of Church schools to support the spiritual development of all in powerful ways. For myself that work exposes as myths, and some of the preconceptions of exclusivity, that often get aired in the media about the role of what they tend to refer to as “faith schools”. Ethnographic on the ground research is a powerful tool for understanding more deeply what is really going in schools. You can find out about those 10 stories of Church schools by reading the book, here. The insights on how Muslim students and others of different faiths experienced spiritual development in these schools are quite illuminating.

I spoke to the conference about the role of Cathedrals Group universities in initial teacher education, encouraging dioceses and Church of England MATS to think about how they can develop and improve their partnerships with universities. A Diocesan Director of Education came up to me afterwards and spoke about how concerned he was about the philosophy of education some new teachers expressed out of some of the newer ways of training teachers. Even more compelling was the conversation from multiple education advisors which spotlighted the lack of pedagogic input on the ‘crash course’ style methods of teacher training, which might be one of the indicators our research found much greater trust in university-led teacher training by schools themselves. You can read the research into teacher education here.

It was fantastic to hear from doctoral research being undertaken in Christian education including one really powerful exemplification from Alison Brown, who did a study based on the application of What if Learning to acts of Collective Worship in that school. She found really compelling evidence for the transformational impact of this Christian approach to schooling, in ways that enabled all children to benefit.  You can read more about that great work in a Grove publication available here. We are delighted to see the wider impact of the What if Learning researchers that is touching teachers, schools and children in deep and powerfully meaningful ways. If you have not read about this work you can do so here.

Are you interested in undertaking doctoral research? Read our flyer here about the new Christianity and Education doctoral cohort we are recruiting ( EdD_flier_final,) and also about our PhD programmes here. I would love to hear from you if you are interested in doctoral research in any aspect of Christian or Religious Education.


Bob Bowie
Director of NICER