Byline: BARBARA GOULDEN
COVENTRY and Warwickshire's diocesan director of education will never forget the day when school closure protesters turned up outside his bishop's house with placards saying "Fire The Canon!"
That was five years ago and Canon John Eardley was not fired. However, at the age of 64, he has now decided to retire.
The former industrial chemist turned cleric still regrets those dark days of 1995 and 1996 when thousands of parents took to the streets of Coventry, Warwickshire and London to protest about the threat to rural schools, lost teaching jobs and bigger class sizes.
"But closing some of our tiny village schools, many of them church-aided, was a job which had to be done," says Mr Eardley, who believes he had no option but to support cash-strapped Warwickshire County Council's closure and merger of some 40 schools.
At the time the Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Rev Simon Barrington-Ward, backed him all the way. But the two did not always agree.
Bishop Simon was in favour of the Conservative government's introduction of a daily act of worship in all schools. Surprisingly the canon still believes this is impractical in most secondary schools where there is a whole host of pupils and staff who do not believe in God.
Instead he says: "Schools should offer the kinds of things that take adolescents to the threshold of understanding and faith and then it's their decision where they go with that."
It is this need for a greater spirituality in schools - not necessarily more religion - which the priest sees as the greatest loss during his 20 years as the Church of England's diocesan education officer.
The man with a vote on three different local education authorities says: "The National Curriculum is super but the way teachers are being forced to implement it with targets, testing, endless bureaucracy and the fear of being named and shamed has education stressed out. …