Bishop Michael, faith schools and why more parents are seeking a religious education for their child

The country had one of its periodic moments of togetherness this weekend in celebration of the Royal Wedding with 13m people tuning in to the BBC to see Harry and Meghan tie the knot.

And I’m betting that some of our churches enjoyed a similar bump in the ratings after the tremendous sermon in St George’s Chapel by Bishop Michael Curry.

The Episcopalian from Chicago spoke passionately and lyrically about the power of love to transform the world as well as individual lives and his line about the happy couple that “Two people fell in love and we all showed up” was pinched for their headlines by the newspapers.

I suspect there will be plenty of lapsed churchgoers who were moved by Bishop Michael’s oratory to turn up at Sunday service again to rediscover the source of his inspiration.

Religion struggles to command the nation’s attention at other times or at least that’s the impression we get.

Yet, in some areas of life at least, there is still a keen appetite for the kind spiritual inspiration and guidance that religion offers.

I’m talking here about education where faith schools are now in such demand that the government has announced it will support the opening of more.

The 637 secondary faith schools made up 19% of all state funded mainstream secondaries. The proportion of state funded faith schools has increased gradually over time from 35% of primaries and 16% of secondaries in January 2000.

It announced this month that it is providing cash for more councils to work in partnership with Church of England, Catholic, Jewish, Islamic and other faith groups to open new schools in their area and the schools will be allowed to draw all of their pupils from specific religious backgrounds.

There are more than 600 faith-based secondary schools in England, making up 19 per cent of the total of state-funded secondaries, up from 16 per cent in 2000.

I know from first-hand experience that the attraction of faith schools for parents is growing, irrespective of the appetite for religious observance among the population generally.

At the school appeals board for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nottingham, of which I am a member, the number of appeals from parents whose child has not secured a place at the catholic secondary school they hoped for is rising year on year. We are currently hearing the cases of many, many parents who are seeking a faith-based education for their child.

For some, they are simply seeking a school which adheres to the tenets of the Catholic religion. Others see a faith school as offering a sound moral education in the broader sense, while others believe issues like bullying are dealt with more effectively in a faith setting.

(Generally, there’s also a perception that faith schools perform better academically but this is a complex issue.)

As a board member, I would love to give as many children as possible the benefit of a Catholic school education but we just don’t have the places available in our schools.

I welcome, therefore, the Government’s plans to help local authorities and faith bodies work together to expand faith schools.

Meanwhile, if the ‘Bishop Michael effect’ encourages even a fraction of the people who praised him on social media to revisit the ideals of faith, we’re going to need a lot more schools in future!