Tag Archives: Relational working

RAISING CHILDREN IN A DANGEROUS WORLD

Calls for compulsory PSHE and SRE are nothing new and the government is lobbied regularly about the issue from a range of sources. This week, the BHA’s Andrew Copson added yet another call, arguing that we are raising children in a dangerous world where compulsory SRE is necessary for their protection.

Reading the reasons that campaigners give is like reading a list of reasons to book in for self-defence classes: violence against women, abortion, porn, sexting, online grooming, abuse, forced marriage, FGM, sexual harassment and homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying. There are a whole range of issues there, none of which relates to sex as an expression of love within a stable relationship, which is the basis of family life and therefore of societal strength.

Whenever calls are made for compulsory SRE, the responsibility of one vital group of people is deliberately omitted – that of parents. The Bible is quite clear that parents are their children’s primary educators: Psalm 127:3 tells us that ‘Children are a heritage from the Lord’ a gift in His image, given to us by God to be nurtured, loved and raised to know God. Deuteronomy 6:6 tells us how we should teach our children: ‘These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up’. While parents often choose to entrust parts of this task to others, the responsibility ultimately rests with them to make a good choice and to help their children navigate a path through the many voices that clamour for their attention, particularly when it comes to matters of morality and relationships.

An increasingly secular state is eroding both this responsibility and right, and the push for compulsory SRE is part of this. One of the arguments is that this is necessary because some parents are abdicating their responsibility, leaving their children vulnerable. But that is not a justification for imposing a centralised curriculum on all children, particularly those whose parents want to protect their innocence until such time as they consider it right to talk about the many forms that abuse take.

Another powerful argument says that our children are in danger and that we need to teach them to protect themselves. But that, again, comes full circle to parental responsibility. Adults have created this dangerous world where children are exposed to explicit sexual information from an early age. The answer is easy – protect our children by creating a safe society, not by preparing them to live in a dangerous one. Except that to do that, adults have to accept limitations on their liberty and freedom to live as they wish.

But there’s another strand to the article, which actually has nothing to do with SRE, and that is the profiling of HBT bullying. The fact that this is now considered a necessary part of SRE is proof of how embedded the LGBT activist agenda has become. Copson argues that the role of Osfed in inspecting SRE is not viable because a BHA analysis of 2000 inspection reports showed that this form of bullying is only mentioned in 14% of the reports, although it is reported by 86% of secondary teachers.

The problem here is the lack of proper scrutiny of the data. That percentage of teachers may well have heard words like ‘gay’ being used inappropriately and, as with all name calling, should have dealt with it appropriately. But name calling does not constitute bullying. Nor does the mere perception of it. Bullying is planned, prolonged and persistent. When analysed using that definition, the figures look rather different. One study shows that in Year 9, when bullying is at its worst, only 6.2% of students who reported being bullied gave HBT bullying as the cause. The other 93.8% of those bullied gave a range of reasons, mostly relating to appearance, clothing or disability. You’re far more likely to be bullied for having red hair, than for being gay. So why should one group within a diverse society claim the bullying problem for its own?

The other argument is more subtle, but none the less corrosive, and that is the equalities agenda. The Equalities Act 2010 marks a significant departure in English law, because for the first time it establishes the protection of characteristics. English law is founded on person and property, dating from a time when there was a common understanding of personhood as being created in the unique likeness of God. The protection of characteristics offers an open door to identity politics and creates a hierarchy: that is not how God designed us to live.

So how can a Christian educator respond? The answer is to create genuine diversity in your classroom, not based on characteristics, but on personhood. Each student is uniquely made in the image of God, and deserving of respect not because of how they identify, or how they look, but because God loves them. In creating a context where each and every student is equally respected, accepted and valued just because, you are living out the principle of welcoming all in the name of God.

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.