The idea of the Farmington Institute was conceived in the Second World War when the Hon Robert Wills was serving in the Grenadier Guards. He made up his mind that if he lived through the war he would do something to make the world a better place. Although he was badly wounded, he did survive, and some twenty years later was in a position to found the Farmington Institute.

Initially, the Institute concentrated on providing written materials which he felt would be helpful to develop values and standards among young people. However, with the election of a wartime friend to the Institute – Mr Johnnie Henderson, who was subsequently Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire – the Institute undertook a much more active role, helping to establish regional RE resource centres and running conferences for RE teachers.

Robert Wills
Robert Wills

In the late 1980s, Mr Wills decided to lead the Institute in a new direction, that of investing in RE teachers by developing a kind of ‘Rhodes Scholarship’. The aim was to give RE teachers in secondary schools a term out of school to study at a university. A selected number of RE teachers would be awarded scholarships to undertake research which would be useful in their teaching, and be of help to other teachers. Mr Wills came to see that RE teachers were often in one-person departments and that RE was a ‘Cinderella’ subject. Through awarding teachers prestigious scholarships and enabling them to return to study in a university under a supervisor, he felt that the Institute was building up a body of expertise in Religious Education within the teaching profession and improving morale among teachers.

To this scheme was added an annual conference, where those who had held scholarships over the previous year would share the results of their research with other RE teachers, so that good practice, and new ideas, could be disseminated throughout the profession. The Institute runs induction days for the selected candidates prior to taking up their Scholarships. This meeting gives the scholars an opportunity to discuss their proposed topics of research and get feedback from other teachers. During the induction day several issues are covered, including the final report, the presentation to be done in school or at university, support from supervisors, and help from the Director and staff at Farmington.

The Institute pays for a replacement teacher for the term, all university fees, accommodation where the scholar is resident at a university, travel expenses and agreed out of pocket expenses.

In 1997 Farmington won a Millennium grant, which enabled the Institute to extend its scholarships to teachers responsible for RE in primary schools. Over a three year period the Institute awarded 76 additional scholarships to primary school teachers. The Institute won another three year Millennium grant in 2000, to provide scholarships for teachers of RE working with children who had special educational needs; on this occasion 95 teachers benefited from the scheme.

Today the Farmington Institute offers scholarships to RE teachers in secondary schools, those responsible for RE in primary schools, teachers of RE to children with special educational needs, and also to head teachers in moral, ethical and religious education. In addition, a separate scheme gives scholarships in moral and ethical leadership to members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.

In the summer of 2015 Farmington, which has always had a close relationship with Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford, became an integral part of the College and is overseen by the Farmington Board which is responsible to the Governing Body of the College. The historic activities of the Institute will continue as normal.