After a fantastic day in London visiting St Paul’s Church in Hammersmith to hear Tom Wright speaking on the salvation story of forgiveness from Luke 5 (thoughts for school prompted by that talk are below) and a lovely afternoon spent at the Chelsea Physic Garden, avoiding the hemlock and gawping at the mandrakes (I am no gardener, but this place was inspiring in all sorts of ways), I got home to find an e-mail from Robin Alexander via the Cambridge Primary Review Network indicating that the draft English and Maths National Curriculum Orders have taken scant notice of the Expert Review Panel set up to advise it. The beans were spilled today when Andrew Pollard, writing on the IOE (Institute of Education) Blog and some published background correspondence behind the scenes between members of the Expert Group made it absolutely clear that there is little relation between the advice given by the Expert Panel and the shape and content of the draft orders. This is worth knowing, in case Gove et al tell us that “they have listened carefully to the advice of the Expert Panel”. Andrew Pollard’s account is definitely worth reading, and there are some interesting comments there too.

It is worth saying where I stand on this. The Cambridge Primary Review Final Report is the single most sensible, carefully researched, comprehensive, well-thought through, imaginative and practical study of and guide to primary education in England in the last 30 years at least. There is NOTHING that rivals its scope or the intellectual rigour of its conclusions, and any government who dislikes its outcomes for ideological (as opposed to just logical) reasons will pay the price of their folly in another generation of confused and wobbling educational and curricular policy.The Expert Panel (advising the government) has members on it who are both sympathetic to or have contributed to the Final Report, and even it they were not, they are intellectually sound and thoughtful enough not to ignore the weight of evidence that it brings to the debate. Debating English education for primary schools without taking careful note of it is (sorry, no better word) stupidity, amounting to a sort of curricular MUESLI.

Now you know. Read Andrew Pollard!

Anyway, back to Tom Wright.

By the way, St Paul’s put all their sermons up on a webpage for download and I recommend you listen to it when you have a spare, say, 40 minutes. At the time of writing, the sermon is not up yet.

Tom Wright spoke about:

the healing of the paralytic man by Jesus, when his (the paralytic’s) mates dug a hole in the roof of a house and lowered their friend at Jesus’ feet. Those who know the story, know the story. Tom spoke about our need to see this little cameo – the faith of the mates on the roof, Jesus’ diagnosis of sin-influenced paralysis, the assertion that he, Jesus, could forgive sins and the consequent shock-horror of the attendant teachers of the law and Pharisees – in the overarching plan of God’s salvation for the whole of mankind, starting from God’s promise to Abraham (heaven meeting earth in a conversation with God) that the whole world would be blessed through him, through the call, glory and subsequent failure of Israel. The people of the promise were also the people with the problem. Holy call balanced with grievous lament at all that had gone wrong, until the momentous day when exile was imposed, and the temple, the place where heaven touched earth, was no more. The laments of the exile are summed up in Lamentations 4, Isaiah 40-55 and the psalms (especially Ps 137). The need was for God to meet with them, to proffer his forgiveness and return the nation to a place where heaven and earth could again touch and their holy calling resume.

In Daniel 9, after Daniel has implored with God for mercy and a return from exile in one of the great prayers of the bible, God says yes, the people can go home, and so they did. But in v 24 of Daniel it is clear that the true return of God to his people might be up to 490-500 years away, not the 70 that Jeremiah had said and that Daniel was expecting. Thus first century Jews had the Daniel-filled expectation that they were living in a time when the Messiah would return as King. They knew and relied on Daniel 9.24, as Josephus makes plain. Jews were clinging onto this promise, waiting for the real release and freedom from exile.

So Luke’s account brings us a young Hebrew prophet talking about God becoming King. Of course this was interesting to the Jews! He was proclaiming an end to their exile, the arrival of God’s full forgiveness through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Luke 24.47 a new world is anticipated and proclaimed because of Jesus’ great victory – forgiveness is proclaimed to all the nations. There is a new way to be human, a new way to be forgiven by God, to live in restorative justice, a new reconciliation, a meaningful repentance.

In the light of this, what of us? At one level, we all have friends who have degrees of moral, physical or spiritual paralysis in their lives, for whom we pray and earnestly present before God. On a larger scale, the church is to be the people living this great Kingdom for the whole world, and being witnesses of its effects in our lives. We need to be the jubilee community, the released community, the community where justice and peace meet. The beatitudes in Matthew 5 are an indication that God wants this blessing to flow through us, that of humility, peace making, thirsting for righteousness in our societies, closeness to God, purity of heart. Thus the church needs to stand as a mirror to those in power – calling them to account for the way they have devastated the world and its environment, brought poverty to millions through selfish economic policy, tolerated brokenness in families. Since the enlightenment in Europe, we have allowed the state to replace the church in every field of social good – health, education, legal, justice and peace, economics and agriculture. It has now come to a place where the state feels aggrieved becuase the church wants a say. Of course we want a say. We are God’s tools for the restoration of forgiveness and justice in our societies. If the state has moved in because of the weakening of the church (doubtful), we need to stand up and say that these are primarily God’s concerns.

Implications of this, then, for school. Small ones first:

  • Pray for those who need forgiveness and healing in our school community, and be prepared to offer it, humbly, through prayer and action.
  • Remember that forgiveness and healing is usually people’s deepest need.
  • Live as forgiven people. That keeps us humble and dependent on Jesus in our daily walk.
  • Restorative justice as modelled in Restorative Practice, is fundamental to giving opportunities for the harmed and those who harm to seek peace and pursue it.

Bigger ones to consider:

  • If the Local Authority is pulling out of school improvement and struggling to meet the needs of those with special needs, is this not a place for Christians in God’s love and mercy to train up and fill these holes? Can we reclaim something of our original calling with this?
  • How do we convey in sensible terms that God is not just concerned with the spriritual but with every aspect of their lives and those of their families and friends?
  • And, thinking about the last two or three blog entries, how do we fulfil Jesus’ mandate that the Kingdom of heaven belongs to “such as these” – the small of the earth?

A morning diet of theological lobster thermidor, however rich and satisfying, is of no use unless it gives strength for the task.

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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