A week before the term ended I got seriously blessed by three children who I took with me to the Denbigh School to take part in the Milton Keynes Youth SACRE. For those uninitiated, the word SACRE stands for Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education, which is nearly as exciting as it sounds. Following the 1988 Education Act, when religious education was confirmed as a compulsory part of the curriculum, it became a statutory requirement for every Local Education Authority (LEA) to appoint a SACRE. Recently I have been going along to our one in MK because they have asked me to take on, and I have idiotically accepted, the role of overseeing the writing of a new Agreed Syllabus for the city. I have spent the last two days doing precisely that, and giving thanks daily for the great Jo Fageant, former RE adviser to MK and member of the Diocese of Oxford RE advisory team, who wrote the last one so well! The vast majority of her work will survive to another era.
The Youth SACRE meeting is a relatively recent phenomenon and in MK we have had our third meeting, and the first at which Christ the Sower children, all from Year 5, took part. I took Year 5s because they have the necessary maturity and interest, and are around next year to go to some other meetings of the Youth SACRE. None of us knew what to expect, but Shammi Rahman, head of RE at Denbigh, is highly enthusiastic, and the opportunity looked great. We really enjoyed ourselves, and the three children, who got into great conversations with other children from across the city, as well as with some “experts” from Y9-11 at Denbigh to ask questions about. Shammi opened the meeting with a summary of what had been decided at previous meetings:
- We exist to promote tolerance and respect for each other – working toward equality and a better society.
- It is a chance for children’s voices to be heard in the RE debates nationally
- Because the UK has changed so much in the last generation, RE is very relevant to children’s lives – as a subject it discusses issues better than any other one, and educates our community about each other.
- At the National Association (NASACRE) AGM attended by Shammi and others from Milton Keynes, the discussion was about bringing RE into the 21st century in its teaching and content, and it gave MK delegates a chance to tell all about the Youth SACRE, which the NASACRE board wants now to encourage across the UK. (See the item on the Sharing Good Practice list here)
- Perhaps we could have a MK RE conference next year, with a special stream for primary aged children.
I could see our children from Christ the Sower being both impressed by this, but also wondering how they could contribute. We then got into groups to discuss how we could broaden the impact of a Youth SACRE – how could we reach out to all primary schools, as there is a big difference between those who love and respect RE and those who pay it lip-service only. Once this had been discussed by the children they were then asked to focus their ideas onto a presentation that they were to give to the headteachers of all MK primary schools:
- What would they say about the importance of RE?
- Why should schools teach it well and be proud of doing so?
- Why should children not explore spiritual questions at school, and not just at home?
- How would we present our information to headteachers?
Shammi has all the bits of paper from the discussion which took at least 30 minutes, and I hope that we can perhaps film some children doing the presentation and make sure all primary head see it.
The children, being children, got cake and biscuits and juice – it was great fun actually serving them, and acting as hosts to them as delegates (Could I have another sugar in my tea, please? was a great question to be able to say yes to). After the break, they had the opportunity to interview three different older children with different and varied faith backgrounds about how they came to their faith understanding and what questions they had about their beliefs. It was really inspiring watching our children listen, take notes and ask ever deeper questions of their older peers. They all want to go again, all saw the need for only a small number from each school being there, and also the need to encourage others to go – it may be I will take one or two from this meeting and bring new children each time. It is a great initiative – long may it live!