The Church of England educates over 1 million children in its community schools across England, including nearly half of the primary schools in the Penrith and The Border constituency. These schools are generally very popular with parents of all faiths and none, and have a vision to be deeply Christian, to serve the common good and to foster a thirst for knowledge across a broad curriculum.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Unfortunately, the educational attainment of children across the country, including in rural areas, can all too often be impacted by poverty and isolation, including food and energy poverty. Would my hon. Friend join me in thanking the Church of England, including its schools in Cumbria and across the country, for supporting those vulnerable families, particularly in the challenging times of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis? Will the Church commit to continue to provide that vital support?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s thanks, and I can reassure him that the Church of England will continue to support vulnerable families wherever possible—for example, by buying school uniforms, providing breakfast clubs for free and paying for school trips. In the village of Shankhill in his constituency, the Church school supports the whole community by acting as a village hall for gatherings, lunches and intergenerational activities.
What assessment has the Church of England made of the impact, particularly on rural Church of England schools, of the dramatic reduction in the number of priests in some dioceses? Does the hon. Member share my concern that money generated by parishes is being increasingly sucked into diocesan administration and projects, meaning that an impossibly small number of priests serve huge numbers of parishes? That threatens the very future of English parish life, including the role of rural Church schools.
I totally understand the point the right hon. Gentleman is making. He will know that the Church of England absolutely holds to its vision to have a Church of England presence in every community. Of course, he is right that if there are not so many incumbents, it can be difficult for them to go in and do assemblies in Church schools and so on, but the Church is really focused on the frontline and putting the parish first.
Church education is quite rightly a priority for our Church, particularly for its leadership, but can my hon. Friend assure me that significant appointments to the Church, particularly to the House of Bishops, demonstrate that the Church of England is actively seeking to represent the breadth of opinion among its members, particularly those of a more conservative theological disposition?