RE Archives – Page 2 of 3 – Christians in Education


Hard on the heels of last week’s blog, which raised questions about the over-looked value of a distinctive Christian education and the right of parents to choose one, came Living with Difference, a report from the self-appointed Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life. To read the report, you might be forgiven for thinking that Christianity is done for; all that remains is to neutralise collective worship, place RE in central control and close faith schools. Et voila, neutralism becomes the new social orthodoxy. Job done.

Except, of course, it isn’t that easy, because as Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs for the Church of England pointed out, ‘nobody comes from nowhere’. The neutral public space so often advocated by liberal secularists and espoused by this Commission as a fair solution to pluralism cannot exist. We all believe something and, in doing so, necessarily reject everything else. But liberal orthodoxy is mistaken to assume that in rejecting everything else, we are implicitly rejecting and disrespecting all those people who believe differently. The opposite, I would suggest, is often nearer to the truth.

The route to a fair and just society is not to do God less, but to do God more. The report, in fairness, does suggest doing God more in the context of RE teaching. But it also simultaneously argues for an inter-faith amalgam in which every belief system loses its distinctiveness. Everyone gets a bit of something. Uniformity masquerades as unity. Conformity poses as cohesion. A little bit of God does you good. Too much God does not.

And when it comes to faith schools, the report really does reflect how conflicted society is about religious belief. Rolling out the tired old argument about faith schools being socially divisive, it recommends their closure not because there is proof that they actually are divisive, but because there is no proof that they are not. Ponder on the double think in that statement. Not innocent until proven guilty. Just guilty due to absence of proof of guilt.

Faith schools were picked on again this week when the primary school league tables were published showing, allegedly, that faith schools have tightened their grip on the rankings. The media claimed, in statements wilfully free of evidence, that this is because they select the most academically gifted on the basis of church attendance. Anyone who thinks that has never been inside an inner city faith school, or a church school with a 90% Muslim intake.

Their success, as Nigel Gender’s, the C of E’s Chief Education Officer was quick to point out, is because ‘the commitment to the flourishing of every child and the strong Christian ethos of our schools drives high standards and performance but, more importantly, promotes the well-being of all the children we serve.’ Paul Barber, director of the Catholic Education Service also pointed out (from evidence) that Catholic primary schools ‘are more ethnically diverse than the average school and take in significantly more children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.’

So what’s going on? I would suggest a form of faith cleansing. The new Education and Adoption Bill gives the state a mandate to seize the land and buildings of any church school which fails to prepare children for life in modern Britain. In other words, all faith schools which want to maintain a distinctive faith ethos will be taken over for failure to conform to the liberal secularist social orthodoxy.

Some in the DfE were, apparently, disappointed with the Living with Difference report – Nicky Morgan is reported to be a big fan of faith schools. But what if her definition of a faith school differs from yours or mine? Easy. Just take it over and force it to meld into the new neutral amalgam. That way, the state gets it hands on the highest performing schools. What the advocates of the new neutralism overlook is that in removing the distinctive faith ethos of these schools, they will remove the very thing that makes them so successful.

I think the report is right in saying that ‘Certainty about faith identity in a wider society which is uncertain about national identity and cohesion, and security and safety, may be perceived by others to be inappropriately assertive and therefore confrontational and destabilising’. But reports of the death of Christianity have been greatly exaggerated. Those who hope to marginalise faith and recreate modern Britain as a secular society need to understand that a society at ease with itself (the sort of utopia for which this Commission hopes) is one where its people have genuine freedom. It’s a society where diversity is celebrated, not cleansed. It’s a society built from strong families and mature communities, committed to the common good regardless of belief, ethnicity or culture.

Whatever the neutral lobby might hope, Christianity isn’t headed for the margins any time soon.


A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking at the Leeds Prayer Spaces in Schools conference. I chose to talk about the power of stories. Why? Because stories are fundamental to our understanding of the world and they are the way we find a meaningful place in it.

I consider myself to be one of the most fortunate people around. I’ve not only spent much of my life teaching, I’ve also spent most of that time, as a teacher of English and music, immersed in stories. What could be better than introducing students to other people’s stories through literature and music, and then helping them to tell their own stories in words and sound? It really doesn’t get any better: I was storifying in a range of media long, long before the power of stories was realised.

So imagine my delight this week when I came across the Jubilee Centre for Character and Values’ report ‘Knightly Virtues: Enhancing Virtue Literacy Through Stories. The Foreword begins:

‘Only human beings can tell stories. And only human beings can pass them along. To communicate what matters most, we share great narratives from literature, as well as stories from our own lives. In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre (1981: 216) argues that our lives are so deeply narrative that we can only answer the question: ‘What am I to do [with my life]?’ If we can answer the question: ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’

Stories are fun. Stories motivate. Stories spark imagination. They help us to form knowledge; to make sense of our daily experiences and our memories. Stories are where we dream. But above all, stories are universal and it’s through their universality that we build relationships, understanding what it means to be human and learning how to live well with others.

As a Christian and a teacher, this has a particular resonance and it’s one that needs to be understood by all those who clamour for schools and colleges to be secular, neutral spaces. Apart from the fact that neutrality is impossible (everybody believes something), my faith is integral to my story. It informs my understanding of the world around me. It shapes who I am. I can no more leave my faith in the car park when I go into a school than I can leave my personality.

When Philip Pullman’s General Oblation Board separated children from their daemons, creativity, intelligence and will were reduced; sometimes even obliterated. And so it is with the content of people’s stories. You cannot separate people from any part of their unique story and still retain whole, vibrant, creative people.

An article in The Conversation this week examined the increasingly vehement debate about religion and secularism, while a group of parents, with the backing of the British Humanist Association, is going to court to get humanism included in the RE syllabus. What this actually says is that we have become unwilling to listen to each other’s stories and as a result, we no longer have the necessary vocabulary to discuss them. So how can we make sense of what is happening in our schools, our communities, our society and our world when belief plays such a significant role in its events?

I would suggest that we could do so through stories. We live in a pluralist society, so no one story should dictate social orthodoxy. We should learn to respect each other’s stories and the experiences and beliefs that have shaped them. Christians and other people of faith are often accused of indoctrination and proselytisation as a means of trying to separate them from their stories in the public square. Why?

It’s in the values that we all share that our stories overlap and offer hope of a better future. Maybe one reason why faith schools are so successful in nurturing rounded humans is because those values aren’t just discussed. They are worked out in practice, in the messy business of everyday living in community. And in doing so, those values become virtues.

So instead of trying to impose a singular, secular ideology, why not find common ground in the nurturing of those virtues that we all share, regardless of religious or non-religious belief. When that happens, nobody will need to silence those with whom they don’t agree. We won’t need an Equalities Act to enforce by statute what we are currently unable to do by individual will – respect each other regardless. Just because.

I am Christian. Please respect my story. It defines me. Trying to silence me is to limit my ability to flourish as a fellow human. In return, I will respect your story as fundamental to your identity as we work together to give hope for the future to the students we teach.


What is Prayer Spaces in Schools?

It’s a project of 24-7 Prayer which is accountable to 24-7 Prayer’s oversight team and Trustees. It’s a resource hub to support, resource and encourage the rapidly growing network of prayer space practitioners who run prayer or reflective spiritual spaces in schools. A small team manages the website, encourages the sharing of resources, supports local networks and training workshops, and keeps the prayer space community connected.

What is a prayer space?

Prayer spaces enable children and young people, whether or not they have a faith, to explore the big questions relating to their identity and the purpose, meaning and experiences of their lives. A prayer space usually pops up in a classroom or similar space for a few days. Activities encourage those who are taking part to reflect on issues such as forgiveness, injustice and thankfulness. Some schools bring classes to a prayer space for a lesson, while other schools offer the opportunity as a voluntary time and space for personal and spiritual reflection.

The website is the best place to start exploring what prayer spaces are and how they are organised – it includes an excellent section on Values and a video in which chaplains, students and staff explain how a prayer space can support spiritual life.

How have students responded to prayer spaces?

With great enthusiasm! They comment on the peace, the stillness and the chance to reflect. They sometimes surprise themselves by their reflections and the realisation of how many different ways there are to pray. They are willing to be vulnerable and honest with themselves and often children want to take their parents to the prayer space, too, so that they can share in the experience. Above all, they value the personal time and the safe emotional space that is so lacking in other areas of their lives.

Are Heads and staff happy to host a prayer space?

Feedback from heads and teachers is overwhelmingly positive. They talk about the quality of the interaction between adults and children, the opportunity for children to find a voice, the value in bringing the school community together in a shared experience and the benefit of time to be still and reflect. Some staff have noticed the difference it is making to individual pupils and several schools have benefited so much that they want to create a permanent prayer space.

The contribution to the RE and PSHE curricula (RME and Health and Wellbeing in Scotland) is valued by teachers, parents and governors of all faiths and none as activities are in line with government guidelines and meet the statutory requirement to support the spiritual, moral and social development of pupils.

Can anyone run a prayer space?

Yes, if you want to serve your local school community and contribute to the spiritual and pastoral development of students. Talking to a local support network would be a good idea if you want to know more. Check out the Getting Started page of the website and read some of the stories to get a feel for how prayer spaces work.

So how would I go about starting one?

Prayer spaces work best when they are part of the ongoing spiritual and pastoral life of a school, so if you want to start a prayer space, you need to think about any relationships that already exist – maybe your church with a local school, or you with staff or governors. To facilitate a prayer space, you will need to meet with someone in the school who has responsibility either for RE or school leadership. That’s where any connections you, or your church or youth worker have with a school comes in. When you have arranged a meeting, check out the Serving the School Community section of the Prayer Spaces website, which gives you detailed information about what to take to an initial meeting and what to talk about.

What do I do next if the school wants to go ahead?

The Prayer Spaces in Schools website is an amazing resource. It’s crammed full of the advice and support you will need as you embark on all the hard work and planning, including Choosing the Prayer Activities Recruiting and Training a Team and Publicity and Preparation. There’s a section on the exciting bit – Running your Prayer Space and finally What Next? – supporting the ongoing spiritual life of the school community with which you are in relationship through your prayer space.

Finally, don’t forget to register your prayer space. It’s easy to overlook but it’s a very important step. Not only will it keep you in touch with resources and stories from others, it will allow the organisation to track where prayer spaces are popping up around the world and to keep you connected with others, maybe in your area, who are involved in their schools. Registration is all about getting, and staying, connected in the prayer space community.