The impact of Christian Education research on developing policy in the maintained church school sector and informing the national debate in the areas of social cohesion, school culture and ethos, and school leadership (Liverpool Hope University)

Submitting Institution

Liverpool Hope University

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Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Studies In Human Society: Sociology

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Summary of the impact

The National Centre for Christian Education (NCfCE) is one of only two research centres in the United Kingdom engaged in empirical work which directly impacts policy development in the maintained Christian school sector and informs national debate around Christian educational provision. The NCfCE has partnered the Catholic Education Service, The National Society (Church of England) and Academy sponsors Oasis Learning Community in projects which have focused on three specialist areas: 1) The spiritual formation of Christian teachers and school leaders, 2) The impact of Catholic schools, with a particular emphasis on social cohesion and 3) The development of distinctive ethos in Christian schools and academies.

Underpinning research

Research in the three specialist areas of formation and leadership, the impact of Catholic schools and the development of specialist ethos was carried out by Professor John Sullivan, Dr Andrew Morris and Dr Elizabeth Green. Professor John Sullivan founded the NCfCE in 2006; Dr Morris was Director of the Centre between 2007 and 2012 and the NCfCE is currently led by Dr Elizabeth Green. The NCfCE operates in a uniquely ecumenical context at Liverpool Hope University and is widely recognised as having national expertise in Christian Education. It has successfully attracted external funding in excess of £350,000 since it was established to support its work and fund fifteen projects (some on-going) over the past five years. These projects impact three key providers of education: the Catholic Church (inc. Religious Orders), the Church of England and Academies sponsored by non-denominational Christian sponsors, who between them supply just over one third of all schools in England and Wales.

1) The spiritual formation of Christian teachers and school leaders
As the first Professor of Christian Education in England Professor Sullivan's work in Christian education and theology is internationally recognised. This is evidenced by his extensive itinerary of public speaking engagements, his examination of theses for the Australian Catholic University and his provision of bespoke professional development and training for Catholic dioceses, churches and schools in the United Kingdom and overseas. Professor Sullivan's research integrates theological, spiritual, educational and leadership perspectives in order to promote distinctive approaches to Christian education and support the formation of Christian teachers and school leaders. He has recently edited a book, Communicating Faith (Sullivan, J. 2011), which has been described by Professor Gerald Grace as a `landmark publication' for all those who have the responsibility of communicating religious faith.

2) The impact of Catholic schools, with a particular emphasis on social cohesion
Dr Morris's academic specialism is in the field of faith-based education and school leadership, particularly in the Catholic sector where his doctoral thesis on an hypothesised `Catholic Effect' on academic productivity in the English educational system was the first of its kind. His expertise in this area has resulted in him leading various research projects into the academic and social outcomes of Catholic schools funded by individual Catholic dioceses and the Catholic Education Service, and has worked in collaboration with the Office for Standards in Education over a number of years to publish a series of papers on the academic standards and attainment of pupils in Catholic sector schools in England. As a result of his recent work on Catholic school effectiveness, social cohesion, Christian school leadership and culture, NCfCE regularly contributes to Catholic Diocesan Commissioner Conferences, Catholic and Anglican Diocesan training programmes, and advises the CES and, on occasions the DfE, on home to school transport. He was, until August 2012, a trustee of the Pastoral Research centre Trust for Applied Socio-Religious Research.

3) The development of distinctive ethos in Christian schools and academies
Dr Green's research into Christian ethos and culture in the new Academies was the first such empirical research to be carried out in England. Since joining the NCfCE in 2010 Dr Green has carried out two research projects part funded by the Jerusalem Trust into the impact and translation of ethos in church sponsored Academies. As a direct result of this work Dr Green is one of three national experts advising the National Society on the development of a Christian curriculum; this is one of the outcomes of the Church of England's major review of its educational provision (Church School of the Future Report). Dr Green regularly advises Academy sponsors and speaks at training and consultancy events run by Academies, Diocese and third sector organisations engaged in educational provision.

References to the research

1) `Education and Religious Faith as a Dance.' Chapter in Communicating Faith edited by John Sullivan (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2011), pp.344 - 358.


2) `Religious Faith in Education: Enemy or Asset?' Journal of Beliefs & Values, 33 (2), August 2012, 183 - 193. ISSN 1361-7672.


3) Morris, A.B. (2010) Leadership, management and pupil's academic attainment: reviewing the association within the Catholic sector 1993-2007, Education Management Administration & Leadership, 38. 6. 679-693


4) Morris, A.B. (2010) Bridging worlds: ethnic minority pupils in Catholic schools in England, Journal of Beliefs & Values, 31. 2. 203-213


5) Green, E.H. (2012) Analysing religion and education in faith-based academies. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 33, (3) pp.391 - 407


6) Green, E. H. (2009) `Speaking in Parables': The responses of students to a Bible-based ethos in a Christian City Technology College. Cambridge Journal of Education, 39, (4), pp.443-456.


Publications were subject to editorial and peer review processes.

Details of the impact

The NCfCE regularly disseminates its work to a range of audiences via peer-reviewed journals, seminar programmes, practitioner workshops, professional consultancy and training and through Christian media. This has earned the NCfCE national recognition as a centre of expertise in the field. Examples of the kind of commissions the Centre has attracted include:

  1. Developing an expanding on-line interactive distance learning programme for teachers in Catholic schools (onging)
  2. Consulting on the development of an Academy charter for the Diocese of Oxford (completed 2011)
  3. Commissioned by the North West Training Partnership to run a conference for new and returning teachers to Catholic Education (12th March 2011)
  4. Commissioned to review the Archdiocese of Dublin's Parish Pastoral Worker Programme (completed October 2010)
  5. Commissioned to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the Porticus Trust funded `Professional Ethics Programme (a three year evaluation project completed 2010)
  6. Commissioned to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of two projects developed by the Liverpool lighthouse Trust — `Harmonize' and `Youth Connect' (these evaluation reports formed the basis for development on which the Liverpool Free School was approved by DfE)

On the basis of Professor Sullivan's research into the spiritual formation of Christian teachers and leaders, he served on the National Steering Group for the ecumenical project, Transforming Lives, which exists to promote teaching as a Christian vocation. Professor Sullivan has provided consultancy services for the Free Church Federal Council, advising them on their statement of education and presented a paper on Faith Schools: Freedom of choice or recipe for division? Their impact on Education and Wider Society at a St George's House Consultation on Faith Schools (November 2009). Professor Sullivan regularly delivers professional development and training for teachers and leaders working in institutions of Christian Education, two recent examples include a one day conference in Dublin for Chaplains entitled Bridge-Building: Chaplains in Education and an inservice training day for the Catholic primary schools in Blackburn on Catholic education: context and mission and challenge and response.

On the basis of Dr. Morris's research into institutional effectiveness and Catholic school outcomes, NCfCE has been commissioned to evaluate educational programmes provided and/or funded by the Archdiocese of Dublin, the Liverpool Lighthouse Trust, and Porticus Trust. Based on his work in relation to the performance and outcomes Catholic schools, he is an international conference speaker and advisor to Institutes of Higher Education, Local Authorities, the Catholic Education Service and a number of Catholic dioceses in England & Wales. He is an Associate of the National Institute for Christian Education Research at Canterbury Christ Church University and of the Maryvale Catholic Higher Institute of Religious Sciences, Birmingham, where he acts also as an occasional book reviewer for the `Sower' magazine. He is a regular contributor to Catholic Education Service research documents and publications, and has contributed to the `faith school' debate through commissioned articles for the `Tablet', and `Universe' newspaper and on local radio.

On the basis of Dr. Green's research into impact of Christian ethos on pupil culture she was commissioned by the public theology think tank Theos to write a review of the research literature in Christian education suitable for a non-academic and practitioner audience (see below source 5). This review was launched at a St George's House Consultation on Faith Schools (November 2009) where Dr. Green and Professor Sullivan were invited to speak on the impact of spirituality in faith schools. Dr. Green appeared on Premier Christian Radio and UCB to comment on the publication and there was a short piece in the Times Educational Supplement. Mapping The Field is widely acknowledged to be a key document shaping the research and practitioner agenda in Christian Education. Dr Green has developed an innovative analytical framework for research in the new academies (see above, reference 1) and this has formed the basis of consultancy and staff development work for Oasis Learning Academies (Leading in a Culture of Change Project). This was a collaborative project with the National Centre for Christian Education Research at Canterbury Christ Church University; Dr. Green co-authored a resource toolkit for the development of middle leaders and chaplains.

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. Green, E. H (2009) Mapping the field: a review of the current research evidence on the impact of schools with a Christian ethos. Theos
  2. Oasis Learning Community: Leading in a Culture of Change Project
  3. Morris, A. B. (2008) Fifty Years On: The Case for Catholic Schools, Matthew James publishing
  4. Catholic Education Service Digest of Census Data, 2007; 2008; 2009; 2010
  5. Morris A B. & Godfrey R (2006) A statistical survey of attainment in Catholic schools in England with particular reference to schools operating under the trust deed of the Archdiocese of Birmingham
  6. Evaluation of the Archdiocese of Dublin Parish Pastoral Worker initiative (2010)
  7. Morris A B. Schools in the secular firing line The Tablet, s. 8, 7th February.