Category Archives: Comment

How to run without growing weary

September is a time for all things new: new students, new timetables, new colleagues and new challenges. The launch of a further 18 new free schools was announced this week, to go with the 52 already set to open their doors to new students for the first time this term. Even Ofsted seems to have a new interest – in behaviour, calling for a grammar school ethos, the banning of mobile phones and more heads who are ‘battlers and bruisers’.

Christians in Education is also no stranger to new things – this week saw the launch of the new FOR PARENTS area of the website. What response can parents make as the government adopts an increasingly quasi-parental position in education? How can Christian parents offer a faith perspective to their children and to their children’s schools, based on biblical principles? A series of twelve articles offer answers to these questions, informing parents about some of the current issues in education and its underpinning ideologies. They also offer a Christian perspective for a partnership that will enable children to plot a pathway through the school years and empower parents to express their faith in the particular context of their children’s school.

Our partner organisation Transforming Governing kicks off the academic year with a brand new website – if you are a Christian who is, or who is thinking of becoming, a governor of a school in England, this would be a worthwhile port of call. Becoming a governor is a key way to be a positive Christian influence for change in schools, so do take a look at the website and think about whether this is something you could do.

Sadly, for many, there will be no new school year. According to a UNICEF report published this week, war will stop 13 million children from going to school. This may be because their teachers are too terrified to go to work, because their schools are too often attacked, or because the buildings are needed as refugee shelters.

And yet some ideologies never change. While our TV screens are filled with images of migrant people fleeing war torn countries in search of a chance to live, our government introduced a new post-16 maths course this week as an alternative A level. Based on personal finance, it will teach students how to split the bill, deal with currency exchange and work out interest. It is entirely about maximising self as a consumer in a materialist society. The course apparently contains nothing about contributing to the common good, about sharing or about giving to others less fortunate than ourselves. The contrast couldn’t be more obscene – learn how to source the best exchange rate for your next holiday while your fellow humans drown in that same Mediterranean Sea where you plan to soak up the sun. Consumerism or compassion? It’s quite clear what ideology underpins the course.

I ended the last school year by reminding you of the thought in Isaiah 62:3 – ‘You will be a crown of splendour in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God’. You are so precious to God that He holds you continually in His hand. As you embark on the endurance test of the next academic year, ponder on another verse from the prophet Isaiah: ‘but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint’ (Isaiah 40:31).

As you hope in the Lord, may you soar on wings like eagles above the challenges of school or college life. As you hope in the Lord for yourself, your community and our world, may you renew your strength and run without growing weary through the year ahead.

ANOTHER YEAR ENDED

The TES article ’20 ways teachers know they’re nearly at the end of the summer term’ this week sparked off a series of tweets on the topic. There’s nothing quite like looking forward to some down time in the sun, only to realise as the rain starts to fall on day one that the best of the summer has somehow passed you by.

Exams, controlled assessments, marking and planning are all done for another year. That display that you really meant to do won’t be needed for another few weeks (and anyway, only the hideous colours of backing paper were left by the time you got to the cupboard) so it’s time to stop and recharge your batteries.

Because schools are communities of people, we are constantly working in relationship with each other. Some of those relationships this year will have been positive – some quite the opposite. There’s that wretched person who never puts resources back where they belong, so you have to spend precious time hunting for them in her cupboard. There’s the teacher who waits until everyone’s gone home before harvesting other people’s planning to save having any ideas of their own … the colleague who inflates progress data … the school leader who’s always on the parents’ side leaving you feeling vulnerable and unsupported. It’s all part of working in community.

If we’re willing to learn about ourselves from the frustrations as well as the positives, then we grow as people. Writing to the church in Rome, the apostle Paul reminds us that perseverance develops strength of character, and character produces hope. The ancient prophet Malachi writes about those who honour God as being ‘special treasure’ (Malachi 3:17). The process of shaping us into gemstones is often painful as we try to work in relationship with others in community. It certainly requires perseverance and strength of character.

The other day I read an amazing piece by devotional writer Lyn Gitchel. Reflecting on Isaiah 62:3 ‘You will be a crown of splendour in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God’, she wondered why God is holding the crown: after all, crowns are either worn, or locked away in a royal stronghold. This is what she wrote:

‘So precious are we to [God] that He holds the crown in His hand where He can always look upon it and see His masterpiece … so precious has each of us become to Him that He does not set us on His head where He cannot see us, or leave us in His treasury of crown jewels. He takes us in His hand to gaze continually on us with joy and with pride’.

So as you reflect on the year just gone and as you recharge your physical, emotional and spiritual batteries over the next few weeks, remember that you are God’s special treasure. He holds you constantly in His hand because He is proud of the person you are becoming.

I hope you all have a blessed and peaceful summer break. I’ll be back with the next blog on Friday 4 September.

TRUST, THANKS AND LOVE

A couple of weeks ago I was pootling around on Twitter, as you do, clicking on links, reading the first line or two of various blogs and then moving on. One blog caught my eye – Secondary schools – trust, thank and love your Primaries.  I clicked. I started reading.  I read to the end. I cheered. Here’s why.

I have never, in my whole career, heard that level of acknowledgement from a Secondary Head. Transition every year is effective, only to be followed in September with dark mutterings about our level 5 not looking anything like their level  5. But then, Primary education is only about teaching children to colour by numbers, isn’t it? And Primary leaders are just the people who write the numbers. There’s always that unspoken thought that we’re just childminding until the real work of education begins – and always that delicious moment when Secondary NQTs spend their compulsory day with us and crawl away at 3.30, pale and exhausted, asking how on earth we do it day in, day out. One day is quite enough to put them off for life.

The blog touched on various issues that I found compelling. Firstly (with heartfelt thanks to John Dexter) was the observation that we are ‘fairly expert at everything’. I’ve heard non-specialist, I’ve heard generalist, I’ve even heard jack-of-all-trades, but I’ve never heard acknowledgement that we ‘seem to know everything’. We don’t of course – often we learn from, or with, our children or we’re only a step or two ahead of them, but great Primary teachers aren’t afraid to admit gaps and root out the knowledge needed to fill them. I once heard a colleague describe how she would (to her family’s intense embarrassment) dumpster dive to retrieve useful bits and bobs for craft work or display. The analogy wasn’t wasted on us that we do the same with knowledge.

Another acknowledgement I read into the blog’s subtext was that Primary teachers speak fluent child.  People mistakenly assume that children are just mini-adults waiting to grow up. They aren’t. They’re a species all their own; childhood is a unique space in its own right, not a waiting room for later life. Great Primary teachers know this and they are experts in equipping children to deal with the ‘ups and downs of life … meeting issues of ill parents, or bereavement perhaps for the first time’.  As the blog also comments, we know a great deal about our children’s families including, sometimes, those details that parents might be horrified to know that we know (yes, Mrs X, if your son’s friends are taking an inordinate interest in your kitchen it’s because he really did tell all the Year 6 boys in a Sex Ed Q+A session that you keep your contraceptive pills attached to the pin board so that you don’t forget to take one every day).

Then John moves on to consider the question of how ethos is communicated. He found part of the answer in visits to his feeder Primaries – it starts in Primary school. He is also Head of a faith school, so ethos is clearly defined. The schools in the Trust share chaplains, families worship in parish communities and Priests are involved in the life of the schools. Part of the answer also lies in the fact that he is now part of a Multi-Academy Trust which facilitates genuine partnership. There are a whole range of points where Trust, church, community, Priests, chaplains, teachers and managers intersect. And this is education at its best. As I often say, it takes a village to raise a child and there are a lot of buildings in the village, all of which have a part to play in raising the next generation of adults who understand community, the common good and the need for human flourishing.

I read John’s blogs regularly and I thoroughly recommend them. They’re full of passion, enthusiasm and hope. He isn’t afraid to think aloud and ask questions to which he is exploring answers. And above all, he is about relational living – with students, colleagues and the wider communities that touch his own.

When asked by an expert in the law what the greatest commandment was, Jesus answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22: 37-39). Christ’s two greatest commands are concerned with relationships – with God and with others and that is the heartbeat of missional teaching.

So, Mr Dexter, thank you for your blog. I hope that it will encourage all Christians working in the amazing world of education to trust, thank and love each other as we build those relationships.