Review by John Shortt
Mapping the Field is an important new book that is likely to be of interest to many who access this website. It is a review of the current research evidence on the impact of schools with a Christian ethos and is freely downloadable from the website of Theos, a UK-based theology think tank that jointly commissioned the review with the Stapleford Centre.
The researcher is Elizabeth Green who has also recently completed doctoral studies at Oxford University and was herself formerly a student at an independent Christian school. Her research for this book was supervised by Trevor Cooling of the Transforming Lives Project.
Although the research reviewed by Dr Green is mainly from England and Wales, she has also included a substantial section looking at the outcomes of research from other parts of the world. The research studies she reviewed presented her with a very complex task because of the diversity of the types of school in which it was carried out; the varying methodologies used by the researchers and the range of theological understandings they worked from of both Christian faith and Christian distinctiveness. Seemingly undaunted by this complexity, she has walked carefully through her field of study and brought us a comprehensive and potentially very helpful account.
The main conclusions of the review are that there is evidence that students at schools with a Christian ethos generally report a more positive attitude toward faith and better spiritual health. There is also some ‘school effect’ in terms of academic attainment that cannot be fully explained in terms of other factors, e.g. impact of home and family. A more detailed account of these findings can be found on pages 76 to 82 of the book.
Dr Green concludes her review with a call for further research for which she sees both need and potential in many areas. She then gives us a framework for future research (neatly summarised in a table on page 85) that should prove to be one of the lasting legacies of this excellent study. She says that the different understandings of Christian distinctiveness are particularly significant for such research and she also identifies four different categories in which Christian ethos schools find their main identity:
1) The nurture of identity within the context of a Christian school community.
2) The promotion of the well-being and spirituality of all pupils.
3) The formation of character and production of positive citizens (a social capital model).
4) The enhancement of pupils’ academic performance.
These are not necessarily mutually exclusive for, as the author says, “one school may take its main identity from one of them, but see itself as having an impact on another. For example, a school in category one may have as its goal the nurture of Christian faith, but see itself as contributing to the character development of all pupils, irrespective of their own faith.”
The book concludes with a bibliography of 121 items (in itself likely to be a treasure chest for anybody responding to the challenge and engaging in further research in this important area). The appendices include a listing of the database items very helpfully sorted by keyword (e.g., attainment, attitude, Catholic, international, new Christian schools, etc.).
I warmly commend this study. You don’t need to purchase it because it is all freely available, just a click of the mouse away from you!