Christian Faith in English Church Schools

Research Conversations with Classroom Teachers

by Trevor Cooling (Author) Beth Green (Author) Andrew Morris (Author) Lynn Revell (Author)
©2016 Monographs XIV, 194 Pages
Series: Religion, Education and Values, Volume 8


Church schools are booming, becoming increasingly popular with parents across the world. However, research shows that teachers face considerable challenges as they try to offer a distinctively Christian education within a church school context. This book is the account of a qualitative research project investigating the joys and difficulties experienced in English church school classrooms. The research team spent a year working alongside fourteen teachers from Catholic and Church of England secondary schools, introducing them to What If Learning, a pedagogical initiative designed by an international team of educationalists to support teachers in developing Christian approaches to teaching and learning. The highs and lows of the teachers’ experience are documented in this book and the lessons that emerge are explored in detail. The findings of the project are highly significant for all those involved with church school education and point towards valuable new ways of thinking about Christian faith and learning.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Foreword Nigel Genders
  • Foreword Paul Barber
  • Chapter 1: Do Church Schools in England Work?
  • Chapter 2: What If Learning and Church School Education
  • Chapter 3: The Research Methodology
  • Chapter 4: When What If Learning ‘Works’: Teachers’ Stories
  • Chapter 5: The Challenges that Emerged
  • Chapter 6: Issues for Teacher Education
  • Chapter 7: The Journey from Positivism
  • Chapter 8: Theological Issues for the Churches
  • Chapter 9: Pedagogical Issues for School Leaders and Teacher Educators
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

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This book is a record of research conducted by the National Institute for Christian Education Research at Canterbury Christ Church University and the National Centre for Christian Education at Liverpool Hope University. It is the product of collaboration between many different people.

First and foremost, we thank the heads, link and classroom teachers and their schools who put up with our presence for a whole academic year. They were a joy to work with and were unfailingly cooperative and helpful despite the extra demands that we were placing on them. Without them, this research would have been nothing. We also thank the university lecturers who allowed us to interview them about church school education. The insights they gave us provided a most helpful complement to what we learnt from the teachers.

We also thank the many critical friends who have been part of the project at different stages. Ray Godfrey’s help was invaluable in the design of the methodology as was Patricia Driscoll’s when we were working on our ethics application and John Sullivan’s in the design of the initial interviews. Liz Melville performed a labour of love in overseeing the transcribing of interviews and focus groups, doing a lot of the work herself. She also looked after all our practical and administrative needs with great cheerfulness and permanent positivity. Mike Simmonds and Lynne Graham-Matheson both read drafts of the final manuscript and provided valuable suggestions for improvement. Mike Simmonds and Caroline Thomas participated in the data analysis meetings and contributed to the honing of the findings. Judy Durrant and David Smith both undertook independent scrutiny of the emerging case studies and provided some very significant insights to the analysis.

The research was a joint venture between Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) and Liverpool Hope University (LHU) and we are grateful to the respective Deans of Education for their support. The project was wonderfully served by our Steering Group which represented the ← vii | viii → two universities and included other academics. The group met faithfully for two years and provided supportive critical scrutiny. It was ably chaired by Rob Gwynne and included Liz Gayton (LHU), Alison Clark (LHU), Liam Gearon, Bob Bowie (CCCU) and Eileen Terry (CCCU). We are also grateful for support from both the Catholic Church and the Church of England. It was a privilege to welcome Nigel Genders, the Chief Education Officer of the Church of England, and Paul Barber, the Director of the Catholic Education Service, as the two guest speakers at the launch of the project findings in December 2014.

Without funding, the research would not have been possible. Our gratitude goes to the Jerusalem Trust, Culham St Gabriel’s Trust, The Hinchley Charitable Trust, Hockerill Educational Foundation and an anonymous church trust. What If Learning, the pedagogical approach which the research investigates, itself emerged from Transforming Lives, an earlier project that was an initiative of the Jerusalem Trust.

Finally as the main author of this book, I would like to record my thanks to Beth Green, Andrew Morris and Lynn Revell for all their support. It has been an immense privilege to have worked with them on this exciting venture. They have all been part of this project for over five years and have each written parts of this book and have helped shape the whole. However, none of them will agree with everything I have finally written. All errors and inadequacies remain my responsibility alone.

Note on Voice

This book is mostly written in my voice. I move between the first person singular when I express my own views and the first person plural when I judge that I am speaking on behalf of the research team. I may of course be wrong in this judgment as responsibility for the final text is mine alone. There are two chapters where one of my colleagues drafted the original chapter and then I edited their work to make it part of the book as a whole. Therefore in Chapter 3, the voice of Beth Green is heard and in ← viii | ix → Chapter 6 the voice of Lynn Revell is heard. Furthermore Andrew Morris has given me significant help with understanding Catholic education and his contribution is significant in Chapters 2 and 8 in particular. I hope my colleagues are content with how I have treated their contributions; if there are problems the responsibility is mine alone.

Trevor Cooling

Canterbury Christ Church University, December 2015.
← ix | x →

← x | xi →


Revd Nigel Genders, Chief Education Officer for the Church of England

I write this in the week that the Government has published its Education White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere, setting out plans and aspirations for the education system over the next few years. The attention all too readily focuses on the fact that all schools will become academies, with the expectation that the whole system will rise to the challenge of greater autonomy, fostered by an accompanying greater accountability. But in order to enable this to happen successfully (that is, in a way which promotes better outcomes for children and enables them to grow and flourish in all aspects of their lives), we need to have teachers who are equipped to lead at every level of the school system and who feel supported and nurtured in that responsibility. The White Paper sets out many of the plans to achieve this, but in a school-led system we need the whole education community to work together to ensure that we develop a system which promotes excellence, well-being and character.

The Church of England has been working in this area for many years and we recognize the importance of character which goes beyond resilience and grit, but seeks to equip children for human flourishing. As part of that work we have been carrying out our own research, funded by a grant from the Department for Education, which is focused on the What If Learning approach outlined in this book, and assesses its impact on the attitudes of learners.

What this book provides is an outstanding analysis of the way in which teachers and educators engage with these concepts in church schools. As we have come to expect from Trevor Cooling’s consistently high-quality contributions to the discussion about Christian education, the book provides a concise summary of the real issues that schools, teachers and Christian educators face and offers great insight and plenty of challenges, which all who are serious about making a difference as educators will do well to pay careful attention to. ← xi | xii →

Within the Church of England we recognize the vital importance of the issues raised by such insights and research and are developing our own Foundation for Educational Leadership, as a vehicle for refreshing the Church’s significant stake in the English education system and mobilizing a movement of educational leaders dedicated to transforming the lives of millions of children in line with the Church’s vision for education. The Foundation will equip leaders to provide a rounded education which is as much about formation and character as it is about knowledge and skills. At its heart, the Foundation will aim to offer training to nurture leaders and give them the skills to influence the whole sector with a compelling vision for education which enables students to flourish. This training must be underpinned by research that creates a body of evidence for effective leadership and pedagogy that achieves the transformational outcomes for students to which we aspire.

This book presents a model of such research and the undoubted impact it will have on the wider education system is precisely what is required. It deserves to be widely read by all who are serious about education as the primary means for transforming society.

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Paul Barber, Director, Catholic Education Service


XIV, 194
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (May)
Research Conversations with Classroom Teachers Christian Faith in English Church Schools Christian distinctiveness pedagogy Church schools
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. XIV, 194 pp.

Biographical notes

Trevor Cooling (Author) Beth Green (Author) Andrew Morris (Author) Lynn Revell (Author)

Trevor Cooling is Professor of Christian Education and Director of the National Institute for Christian Education Research at Canterbury Christ Church University. He speaks regularly on matters relating to church schools and religious education and his publications include the much-debated Doing God in Education (2010). He is currently Chair of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales.


Title: Christian Faith in English Church Schools