The Church of England, last summer, launched its vision for education, entitled Deeply Christian, Serving the Common Good, and at the back end of August, I published two blogs on it. On Saturday, at the Bringing the Vision Alive conference at Westminster, they launched both the vision itself, and the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership. This foundation took a large part in the leadership of the conference.

photo0331The conference itself, attended by 300 people, was extremely well organised, well thought-through and well-resourced. I was slightly surprised to see it being held on a weekend, because two groups of people – headteachers and parish clergy (often chairs of governors of aided schools) – were automatically disadvantaged, and apart from those heads who were presenting in the sessions, I only met two others. There were plenty of diocesan staff, researchers and people working for and with the Foundation for Educational Leadership, and I know it was a launch, but I think that a regional roll-out of this vision is vital, especially as the content of the vision it is likely to define the direction of the next SIAMS framework.

However, I was delighted to be there, partly because I reconnected good working relationships with half a dozen people I have not seen for a while, but also because I found a ready and interested audience for the work we have been doing on spiritual development and the awareness of God working among us, at Christ the Sower. The book that I am writing for Grove publications now looks as though it will appear in 2017, and judging from people’s responses, will fill a gap in the market, as I hoped it would (no point writing, otherwise).

The conference began with a set of prayers and singing led by John Sentamu, archbishop of York, who then went on to talk about the church’s involvement and leadership of education as a key tool for making Jesus Christ visible in the world. People were desperate for a new kind of education, one that valued people, that privileged fruitfulness and creativity, that was continuous through people’s lives and which enabled them to live life to the full, rather than being “stuck in the processes that industrialised the earth.” People, in his experience, wanted educators to find the balance between academic rigour and blessing the hearts and minds of children, and we as church school leaders had a greater opportunity than anyone else to do that. Using Michelangelo’s famous quote about the task of the sculptor being to get the beauty of the sculpture out of the block of marble, he described the work of educators as to shape those given to us in beauty as well as in function.

The vision itself is rooted in the four areas of education for wisdom, for hope, for community and for dignity (WHCD). This WHCD model sets us apart as a church school community, and Sentamu illustrated this with a wonderful quote from William Temple: Maximum output is not a true end of human enterprise; the end is fullness of personality in community.

There was much more from him, and his whole speech is published here.

His address was followed by a short presentation from Alison Peacock, the newly appointed head of the Chartered College of Teaching. It was really good to see Alison there, and a testimony to the fact that the CofE is serious about engaging with the teaching profession not just through the leadership foundation but with classroom practitioners as well. Alison reminded us that vision is  a powerful thing, and that if we are going to work with children and benefit the common good, it will be impossible to do without it. She emphasised the importance of kindness in educational leadership, saying how undervalued it is, or can seem to be, in the way that the profession is spoken to, and in some of the models of leadership that are held up by those who ought to know better. What really struck me as a challenge is that just as we as teachers are charged with ensuring the progress and contentment and well-being of every child in our class, so we as school leaders are charged similarly for every adult in our schools. All of us, said Alison, should make progress through encouragement and learning together – talking to and with all, so that all can experience the gladness of heart that enables teachers and leaders to grow. Are all of our leaders and teachers experiencing success? Have we articulated that success to them? These are vital questions for any school. She then told us a little about the Chartered College of Teaching, its values and its purpose, and the reliance it has on partnerships and collaboration for its own success.

Following Alison’s talk, four people talked to the four streams of the vision – wisdom (Prof. David Ford), hope (Ndidi Okezie), community and living well together (Prof. Bill Lucas) and dignity (Bishop Libby Lane).

  • Educating for Wisdom, Knowledge and Skills: David Ford spoke on the importance of wise leadership being cultivated through mistakes. John 10:10 is clearly at the heart of Jesus teaching on the abundant life, but how he modelled that is interesting: he crossed divisions, he taught freely, he fed thousands without charge, and healed many from all backgrounds. The impact was on the whole of his 1st century Judaean society. The wine at the wedding at Cana (Jn 2) was not just a miracle, but is a sign for church schools that although Jesus has given us high-quality “wine”, there are only a few in the know who actually understand where the stuff comes from. We bring wine to our society, full and rich and satisfying, but it is the fruit of the relationships with God that our schools have. Part of that is forming leaders in wisdom, knowledge and skills, so that they can do the same for children. Wisdom, along with imagination and the development of character are key to answering the deep questions of life and death. What would, David asked us, be a key element of wisdom be for you?  He took the view that we needed, today, all the wisdom we could find, from all the traditions available to us that have learnt something of value: this makes us healthily plural. Can we, as Christian leaders, contribute something distinctively Christian in wisdom for the common good? Our contribution will be one of “multiple depths.” It is important too that we take faith seriously, a deep and imaginative view of the nature of faith. In a world where there is far too much foolish and dangerous faith, and ignorance of faith, we need a wiser faith and a wiser understanding of faith. The vision we have today is not a new one; rather it is one distilled from existing school practice. Finally, our wisdom must reflect that of Jesus, who grew in it, within a rich God-centred tradition of wisdom that shaped his life and thus has shaped ours. We require a wisdom of love and a love of wisdom, hungering for it, and seeking to “Get wisdom” Seek understanding! For it is better than jewels.”
  • Educating for Hope and Aspiration: Ndidi Okezie spoke about the fact that many people have lost hope in the British state education system and are looking to the selective or private model for their children’s schooling, believing erroneously that state education is no good. Many parents she knew were tempted to opt out, whereas there are countless people who know that the state system is rich, sincere, communal and full of great and rich diversity. This particular viewpoint was all news to me, because virtually everyone I speak to is engaged in the state system and respects it! Ndidi said that the “prevailing narrative is that success is only achieved by selective schooling” – thus speaks someone out of her own limited experience. What this led to was that unless we recapture a broader vision of education, we cannot have hope. Can we have hope, she asked, that all can aspire to a quality education, regardless of income? Are we committed to segregation on the grounds of economics? Whilst these questions were just strange, her answer was challenging and right: as leaders, we all have to “deliver” for all children, and proffer the hope that we can do that. She was clear that those working in the state system have uncompromising hope for their schools as quality communities for all. Whilst many opt out and move on, others relentlessly pursue, in hope, the needed changes in the state system. It this were easy, it would not require hope. Anyone working in education needs to have an unrelenting commitment to social justice, not just for our own children, but for our neighbours’ children too. We can’t stay content with the fact that “my child is OK” – we must want a good system for all. She concluded with a challenge to undermine the rhetoric that only a small minority can succeed and access high-quality education.
  • Educating for Community and Living Well Together: Bill Lucas referred back to his original mentor, Bob Moon, who said that “education needs to have a core focus on relationships and commitments.” From there he asked how we should frame education today – what is it for, actually? His view was that it was for the formation of character, and character in action, a plural collective noun, the answer to community and to living well. This had to encompass a broad education, such as those described in the trivium and quadrivium in medieval times. Rather than get into the endless binary debate about the state’s view of education and that which was more child-centred, we had to encompass a wide view of all that had worth to us.. Bill’s answer to that was to stress not subjects but capabilities: craftsmanship, curiosity, confidence, collaboration, communication, commitment and creativity. His line of work has been to examine the prevalence of these capabilities within a wide range of public spheres from the Church of England (the Fruits of the Spirit document, 2015), to the CBI (the work of Heckman and Kautz, 2013) to the IoE and Education Endowment Foundation (Gutman and Schoon, 2013), and people like Carol Dweck and Marty Seligman.  Bill concluded that despite those who see a narrowing of the curriculum as the best way forward, there was (for them) a worryingly large amount of agreement that these capabilities are good in themselves and good for the society where they are learnt and put into practice.
  • Educating for Dignity and Respect: Bishop Lane started with one of the most important questions of the day. “Do we engage with the problem we see before us, or with the child who is a reflection of His glory?” If the answer is yes, then the next question becomes “Do we therefore provide consistency, opportunity, honour and delight in their achievements, and see them as treasured contributions to our school?” The text sitting just underneath these questions is: If we educate our children for dignity, we provide for a fuller life that will flow out to others to live lives more fully. If on the other hand we are diminished, dismissed or disregarded by institutions, then we are unlikely to be able to access fullness of life – nor to offer it. In this, said Bishop Lane, one-to-one relationships are the key, because all relationships were an opportunity to bestow or demonstrate dignity. This goes from the child-child interactions we foster and shape in class, up to the governance of our schools and institutions. The heart of this is that in Christ, we belong to each other, creating a community where value is given to the poor, the simple, the weak and the marginalized.

This gets us to lunchtime, and in the interest of brevity, I will publish this post before going any further!

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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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  1. […] of England’s Education Conference in Westminster with the above title. The first set of reflections are here. Whilst it was Anglican, and therefore had its fair share of frustrating moments, it has provided a […]

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