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John Edmonson on regional variations in theological standards

THE APPROACH of the Church of England to initial ministerial education involves inviting each individual training institution to submit proposals for a pattern of theological education which it believes will prepare candidates adequately for their future ministries. In former years there was a syllabus for the General Ministerial Examination, but more recently the ethos of encouraging individual initiatives on the part of the institutions has been preferred, which is thought to encourage better vision and effectiveness.

Whereas a candidate for ordination who intends to undertake full-time residential training at a college will have a choice of institutions and can assess their strengths and weaknesses relative to his or her own background and needs, for those intending to train on a course, such choice will never exist. The course student must be attached to the institution serving his or her geographical area and only a minority live in ‘borderlands’ with limited choice. Even then the choice will usually be between only two institutions, rather than several. The net result is that the same policy, which encourages healthy diversity among colleges, creates differing standards between courses.

Some would assert that these differences between courses are no more than the differences in emphasis and style always present between different teachers. Others would say that the Church of England is a diverse place anyhow, and that differences in training represent simply a legitimate outworking of that phenomenon. But neither of these positions does justice to the truth of the matter, which is that there is a wide variation between the courses as to how they are rated at a detailed level by their students, in the face of subsequent pressures of ministry, and a further wide variation between those same students as to how well they are considered to have been trained by those subsequently responsible for their oversight.

The following tables are extracted from my recent thesis and summarize certain of the survey data received from 1,007 former course students. For these questions, individuals were asked to rate elements of their training from ‘excellent’ (+10), through reasonable’(0), to ‘totally inadequate’ (-10). For the full significance of the statistics quoted, reference to the original document would be advisable. Here they are reprinted to make the single point that there are differing standards, which need serious attention if the Church of England is to be fairly served by its non-residential training facilities.

 

Table 14/6 (ii)

Student Survey: League Table of Current Courses 

Question 10: In-depth knowledge of the Bible

 

Position

Course

Rating

1

East Anglian Ministerial Training Course

3.4

2

South West Ministerial Training Course

2.2

3

St Albans and Oxford Ministry Course

2.0

4=

East Midlands Ministerial Training Course

1.9

4=

West Midlands Ministerial Training Course

1.9

6=

Northern Ordination Course

1.7

6=

North Eastern Ordination Course

1.7

8

Southern Theological Education Training Scheme

1.4

9

South East Institute for Theological Education

1.0

10

Carlisle and Blackburn Diocesan Institute

0.3

11

West of England Ministerial Training Course

-0.8

12

North Thames Ministerial Training Course

-1.2

 

 

Table 14/7 (ii)

Student Survey: League Table of Current Courses

Question 10: General Academic Theology

Position

Course

Rating

1

South West Ministerial Training Course

5.8

2

East Midlands Ministerial Training Course

4.8

3=

East Anglian Ministerial Training Course

3.7

3=

Southern Theological Education Training Scheme

3.7

5

West Midlands Ministerial Training Course

3.4

6=

Northern Ordination Course

3.2

6=

North Eastern Ordination Course

3.2

8

St Albans and Oxford Ministry Course

2.3

9

North Thames Ministerial Training Course

2.2

10=

Carlisle and Blackburn Diocesan Institute

2.1

10=

South East Institute for Theological Education

2.1

12

West of England Ministerial Training Course

1.9

 

 

Table 14/10 (ii)

Student Survey: League Table of Current Courses 

Question 10: Personal Growth in the Life of Prayer

Position

Course

Rating

1

North Eastern Ordination Course

4.0

2

Southern Theological Education Training Scheme

3.8

3=

Northern Ordination Course

3.5

3=

East Midlands Ministerial Training Course

3.5

3=

South West Ministerial Training Course

3.5

6

West Midlands Ministerial Training Course

3.4

7

North Thames Ministerial Training Course

3.3

8

West of England Ministerial Training Course

3.1

9

East Anglian Ministerial Training Course

2.7

10

St Albans and Oxford Ministry Course

1.9

11

South East Institute for Theological Education

1.1

12

Carlisle and Blackburn Diocesan Institute

0.0

 

 

Table 14/11 (ii)

Student Survey: League Table of Current Courses 

Question 10: Training in Mission Awareness and Skills

Position

Course

Rating

1=

Northern Ordination Course

2.8

1=

South West Ministerial Training Course

2.8

1=

Southern Theological Education Training Scheme

2.8

4=

West Midlands Ministerial Training Course

2.7

4=

North Thames Ministerial Training Course

2.7

6

East Midlands Ministerial Training Course

2.5

7

South East Institute for Theological Education

2.1

8

East Anglian Ministerial Training Course

1.8

9

St Albans and Oxford Ministry Course

1.4

10

North Eastern Ordination Course

1.2

11

West of England Ministerial Training Course

0.6

12

Carlisle and Blackburn Diocesan Institute

0.0

 

Following the acceptance of much of the Hind Report, work is of course now progressing to incorporate both Colleges and Courses into the new Regional Training Partnerships. It remains to be seen whether these new Partnerships will have the will or the ability genuinely to address the strengths and weaknesses of their constituent constitutions.

   

Dr John Edmondson is Vicar of St Mark’s, Bexhill.

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