Tag Archives: Ethos

CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS AND THE SECULAR AGENDA

In June of last year, I wrote a response to the criticism of a group of Christian schools. Several of the schools were due for Ofsted inspections, and I ended the blog with the words ‘Watch this space…’ suggesting that outcomes would ‘probably be determined solely by the current social orthodoxy… even at the expense of denying parents their right to educate their children “in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions” ‘. And that is exactly what has happened.

During a two day period in October, 10 schools within the group were simultaneously inspected, in each case by an HMI, even though previous inspection categorisations were mostly good or outstanding. The behaviour, courtesy and respect of pupils was of particular note, as it was in this recent series of inspections. Nevertheless, the outcomes, as I suggested, reflect the government’s agenda of imposing its one-size-fits-all agenda on all schools, regardless of their size and ethos. Here’s the odd thing – very little has changed in these schools since their last inspections, yet they have fallen to ‘Unsatisfactory’ or ‘Requiring Improvement’ even though they are doing nothing different. It’s an anomaly that the press was quick to spot, drawing the logical conclusion that Ofsted is picking on Christian schools.

The reports show some odd anomalies, too. One school was penalised for the lack of pupil-only toilet facilities, yet many new school builds force teachers and pupils to use the same toilets. Have these schools been similarly penalised, or was Ofsted looking for an excuse?

The provision of high quality careers advice is raised in some of these reports, and this has caused problems for Christian schools in the past. There are two issues here. The first is the capacity of a small school to provide careers advisers. The other issue is more fundamental. The current philosophy of careers advice is focused entirely on providing information about access to wealth creating employment. But for Christians, life is about being the person God created and gifted us to be. That may, or may not, involve higher education and a lucrative career, but any schools falling short of promoting this are being censured at inspection for failing to prepare their pupils for life in modern Britain.

Inspectors also appear to have taken an undue interest in the science curriculum, particularly the teaching of evolution. Why was just one small strand of the curriculum the focus of so much attention? And in all the schools visited? There was clearly a pre-determined agenda and Ofsted seems unaware that it is still legal to teach about a creator God.

After the publication of the reports, things became a little clearer. The Independent ran an article containing its previous content, together with allegations about historic abuse, before proudly claiming that the Ofsted inspections were as a direct result of their investigation. Since when did Ofsted schedule inspections at the behest of the media?

Former pupil Jonny Scaramanga is calling for a specific inquiry into ACE schools, saying that the inspections ‘do not go far enough’. Is he an HMI? Was he at each of the schools inspected in order to deliver this as a professional judgment? Or does he just have an axe to grind, seeing an opportunity to carve out a career in criticism?

And finally, there’s a huge question mark hanging over the role of the British Humanist Association in all of this, with its support of former pupils who claim that ACE schools espouse ‘a fundamentalist, creationist, homophobic, and misogynistic Christian ideology’. The website states that ‘The British Humanist Association has met with the Department for Education on numerous occasions to bring these issues to its attention’, apparently claiming success for having finally provoked action against ACE schools. Since when has a small anti-faith campaign group been able to influence government policy?

Can the government not see what’s going on here? There is a clear agenda, written by the BHA and a couple of former disgruntled students. After some sensational (but largely evidence free) promotion by a single journalist at The Independent, the Department for Education has responded. It is not the first example of the whistle-blowing mentality that is now so popular at the DfE. And those blowing the whistles are believed, with no thought given to the fact that they might be embittered, opposed to Christianity, or just plain wrong.

Ofsted is supposed to be an impartial judge. The Department for Education has been appointed by a democratically elected government with a responsibility to fairly represent all citizens, regardless of belief. The right of parents to teach their children within their community is enshrined in law, even when the values of that community are not consistent with those of wider society.

So why are Christian schools being kicked into touch by the government purely on the say-so of some disgruntled former pupils, a journalist with an axe to grind and an anti-faith campaign group? The Department of Education has some serious questions to answer about its attitude to the role of faith in contemporary society, parental rights in education and the neutrality of Ofsted.

HOSPITALITY: A VERY CHRISTIAN VIRTUE

A couple of years ago, whilst at a Christian Education conference, I attended a fascinating workshop on avoiding conflict in the classroom. It wasn’t quite the standard reflection on conflict resolution that I expected – it was much, much more. It looked at some of the causes of conflict and how, as Christian teachers, we can address them. The presenter suggested a range of reasons why conflict arise, many of them either to do with factors external to our classrooms, or due to unresolved baggage that pupils bring with them when they walk through the door.

One word in particular grabbed my attention and got me thinking, because in contemporary use it implies an industry, which provides a service at a cost. It was the word ‘hospitality’. What does the word mean to you? The dictionary has two definitions: the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers, and relating to or denoting the business of entertaining clients, conference delegates or other official visitors. Christian teachers, the presenter suggested, should exercise hospitality in their classrooms. Well, he clearly didn’t mean ‘entertain’ which is the thrust of the dictionary definitions and which rather skates over the full meaning of the concept. So what does the Bible say?

Answer: a great deal. ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers’ (Hebrews 13:2), ‘Show hospitality to one another without grumbling’ (1 Peter 4:9), ‘You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:34) and ‘hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined’ (Titus 1:8, all quotations ESV). Clearly, God wants us to be hospitable not in the sense of entertaining, but in a much deeper sense, and it’s not an optional extra. It is fundamental to our work for God.

So, we are to welcome people, even strangers from other lands. We are to love them as we love ourselves, in other words, to consider their needs not at the expense of our own, but as equal with them. We should seek to care for others just as willingly as we care for ourselves. Hospitality is about perceiving the needs of others and doing our best to meet them and it’s also about service (1 Timothy 5:10).

What does this mean in practice, in our schools, every day? The practice of Christian hospitality is about inclusivity. We look for God’s gift in each pupil, we treat each one with dignity and we teach each pupil according to their need. We also provide an environment where individual needs to belong are met and in doing so, we model to our pupils how to practice hospitality towards each other. If we are leaders, we have a role in helping our staff to accept responsibility for practicing such hospitality to everyone in the school, not just those who conform to particular norms.

I have spent much of the last week browsing through OFSTED reports for Christian schools. Despite their widespread geographical locations and the unique context of each of the schools, there were common threads to the reports. Teachers were excellent role models for considerate, caring relationships. Pupils talked about their schools feeling just as comfortable as their homes. Their behaviour was judged to be sometimes good and often outstanding.

Tens of inspectors over a long period of time noted the positive, caring and supportive relationships in schools which experience little or no bullying. And, not surprising for those of us who have experienced this kind of nurturing environment, children make good or outstanding progress regardless of ability, often surpassing national standards. The reports proved a powerful argument for Christian schooling.

A hospitable classroom is one in which the fruit of the Spirit grows in abundance. And it’s not just any hospitality – this is Christian hospitality, because we are ‘Rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man’ (Ephesians 6:7 ESV). Whatever our context, this is what makes us distinctive as Christian teachers.

BUILDING SOLID FOUNDATIONS

This week’s return to school has seen the predictable blowing of a single issue out of all proportion – in this case, a decision by the Head of Hartsdown Academy in Margate to send home pupils who failed to conform to the school’s uniform policy. I don’t intend to discuss this in detail – the case has been cogently argued by Behaviour Tsar Tom Bennett in his recent blog. But in the light of Team GB’s recent Olympic success, this story set me thinking. Here’s why.

Several years ago, I taught a child who, by the age of 10, was hovering on the edges of anti-social behaviour and showed every sign of becoming lost, despite the best endeavours of both school and family. He was a talented footballer, but spent more time in playground fights sparked by disputed decisions than he did actually playing. Most days, he ended up banned. He was disengaged in the classroom, sullen and often angry.

Football was the great and single passion of his life – watching it, playing it and talking about it. He regularly represented the school in league matches and generally managed to control himself, for fear of losing his place on the team. It was pretty much the only thing that kept him in school.

One day he was spotted by a talent scout. Following a trial, he was offered a place with the local First Division club junior team – but there were conditions. He had to change his diet. He was no longer allowed to join in with playground football or school league games. He had to commit to working in the classroom, showing respect to school staff and club trainers. Any infringement of the school’s behaviour code, any single incident of aggression, any suspension from school or any missed training session without good reason would mean instant dismissal from the programme. He would have to achieve 5 GCSEs at the end of Year 11 in order to progress beyond the junior team. To succeed, he had to change his life.

The conditions might seem draconian, but there was a purpose. To become a successful professional footballer, he would need to develop self-discipline in all areas of his life, and he would need to commit to a new lifestyle. He did commit, very willingly, and overnight, he turned his life around.

This has been an exciting summer of sport, as we’ve celebrated the outstanding success of our Olympians. But each and every person on Team GB understands, as my pupil did, about discipline, commitment and the need to set aside personal choices in order to succeed. Without accepting the discipline of their trainers, and the need to eat, sleep and train in accordance with their training programmes, none of them would have been there.

Why, I wonder, do we celebrate this determination and discipline in our athletes and footballers, yet cry foul when that very same attitude is enforced by a school Head? In order to get the best out of school life, pupils need to commit – to listening, working, to being determined and to keeping the rules. School is where young people learn how communities, society and the workplace operate. Staff who are lazy about enforcing rules are actually doing their students a grave injustice, allowing them to think that they can please themselves about which rules they keep and which ones they ignore. Life outside of school doesn’t work like that, so life in school shouldn’t either. Everything worth achieving costs effort, commitment and focus.

And what is true in the physical realm is also true in the spiritual realm. The writer of the Hebrews urges us to ‘run with perseverance the race marked out for us’ (Hebrews 12:1), while the apostle Paul writes: ‘Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever’ (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

As another school year gets underway, think about the example you set your students in commitment, perseverance and determination. They are values that help pupils to build solid foundations, not just during school years, but for whatever their future lives hold for them.