The 2019 CCfE conference was set up as the organisations represented in the Christian Coalition for Education wanted to consider together key issues around Fundamental British Values. There is undoubtedly an ongoing focus in education on Fundamental British Values and the increasingly propagated vision of the purpose of education being to “prepare pupils for life in modern Britain.”
The conference explored the contribution Christian teachers, governors, schools, parents and others can provide for a deeper and more robust vision of common life in Britain, that upholds a plural education system that doesn’t leave Christian or other religious people as outsiders in an exclusively secular-defined “modern” Britain.
We were able to learn from some experts in their fields and were able to engage together in mutually-sharpening dialogue throughout the programme on the day.
‘Conscience, Consent, Consultation and Consensus’
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali (OXTRAD)
Bishop Michael began by tracing the origins of common values and, indeed, laws in the nation back to King Alfred’s bringing together of disparate, sometimes hostile, peoples into a unified kingdom. The customs and laws of each were given their due weight but the Common law which emerged was made consistent with the Bible. The law applied to everyone and the values had to do with mutual obligation and duty. From the 13th century, there was a renewed emphasis on the person as being made in God’s image. Bishop Michael mentioned Larry Siedentop’s work which suggests that it is the Christian emphasis on a personal relationship with God and personal accountability, which is largely responsible for our modern understanding of personhood. The emergence of the importance of conscience in forming moral character, the need for consent as to how we are governed and the transition from being subjects to citizens, all stem from this view of personhood. This is the true basis for democracy and the ‘thick values’ necessary for a democratic society ie inalienable dignity, equality of persons, freedom of thought, belief and expression all spring from this tradition.
It is for this reason that Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights is basic to our understanding of a free society and is the foundation of all other freedoms. ‘A space for all’ must be based on a proper understanding of such freedoms which should include the freedom to criticise the existing system, laws we perceive to be unjust and systems of beliefs other than our own and even, if need be, our own.
In the light of such ‘thick values’, it could be right to point out that mere democracy, without a Bill of Rights to protect freedoms and minorities, cannot be enough for national polity. Whilst respecting the rule of law, there should be freedom to criticise and even overturn bad laws. It may also be necessary to affirm that respect and tolerance of others and their beliefs does not mean agreement with any and every belief and can go hand in hand with a critique of beliefs and values, whilst acknowledging that others have the same right to criticise our beliefs and values.
Bishop Michael explained how fundamental values which contribute to a ‘space for all’ include : respect for properly formed consciences and its corollary reasonable accommodation at the work place, especially in public office; the consent of citizens to laws that govern them; widespread consultation regarding any far reaching changes in society; and rather than the dictatorship of Parliament or of any government, for the time being in office, a public consensus before major changes in legislation on personal and social issues
‘Preparing young people for life in 21st century Britain: standing up, standing out, not ashamed and unafraid!’
Alun Ebeneezer (Headteacher of Fulham Boys School)
In Alun’s session he explained how…
The Fulham Boys School (FBS) is a school built upon the Christian faith and how a long with Christian values impacting every area of school life, FBS proclaims the message of the Bible and presents the boys and staff with the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As well as in assemblies, boys are made aware of what Christianity and the Bible has to say, through the school’s curriculum, in every subject, including religious education, science, and personal, social, health, citizenship and enterprise education (PSHCE).
However, how we teach is as important as what we teach. We expose our boys to what Christians believe, but we don’t force them to believe it. We have created an environment that encourages thinking and questioning.
There is absolutely no place in schools for brainwashing or extremist views to be forced upon young people. Schools should be transparent, with nothing to hide or be ashamed of. At FBS, Ofsted and the Department for Education are always welcome and can speak to whoever they like, look at whatever they need, and do it all whenever they want to. We are confident under such a spotlight. The Lord Jesus taught openly (Mark 14:48-49), and, far from brainwashing people and forcing them to believe certain things, he asked over 150 questions in the New Testament, always encouraging people to question and think. He had nothing to hide and urged his followers not to teach secretly, but openly. The apostle Paul said that he was ‘not ashamed’ of the Christian message (Romans 1:16). If what we are teaching children cannot be inspected, then we shouldn’t be teaching it.
But it is the role of education and the core purpose of schools to make students think and question. Surely this is preferable to having society’s views and biases forced on young people; to be told that what we have decided on today is right and every other generation has got it wrong; that certain arguments and views are not even allowed to be put on the table?
Education shouldn’t dictate what a young person thinks. The man voted the greatest Briton ever, Winston Churchill, said: ‘True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous and conflicting information’. The current bias against creation, for example, flies in the face of this. No student or teacher should feel inferior for holding the view that, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’.
During their visit to FBS in May 2017, Ofsted commented: ‘Debate and discussion are encouraged through an active Christian Union, which the pupils told inspectors they value very much’.
Commitment to excellence
As well as encouraging our pupils to think and question, as a Christian school we have a duty and responsibility to be excellent. The reason why many schools with a religious designation have failed is because, quite frankly, they weren’t good enough. They set up a school simply as a vehicle to promote their faith. At FBS we have pledged to be one of the best schools— state or private — in the country in the next ten years. If we want to impact education, then we have to be taken seriously
Everyone is welcome
FBS isn’t just for Christians. We welcome boys and families from all faiths and no faith. We also welcome boys from all backgrounds. We are truly comprehensive; a light on a hill not a monastery or a convent! 10% of our boys are Asian, 15% Black Caribbean, 13% Black African. We have many boys from Muslim backgrounds. About 25% of our boys come from private school backgrounds, while 40% are socially and economically deprived — all rubbing shoulders together and meeting the same high standards.
Everyone is welcome, loved and respected, but all know and understand the principles the school is built upon and what they are coming to.
The really exciting bit!
The government have approached us to set up more schools. We see this as an amazing opportunity and hope to have schools like FBS in every city in the UK. The schools will be part of a trust called ‘The Charles Spurgeon Schools’.
Just imagine lots of schools, with thousands of young people and their families, up and down our land, founded on the Christian faith, hearing the claims of the Lord Jesus, exposed to the teaching of the Bible, open to all, committed to excellence and capable of standing up to the most intense scrutiny.
Under God, who knows what may be achieved? They may even be used to turn this nation upside down!
Ron Skelton discussed how as Christians our Ministry is our work (whatever that may be) and all we do is ultimately for God’s glory.
We shared experiences of how delegates had experienced God’s intervention in a number of specific circumstances where we were at the coal face seeking to be a faithful Christian witness in the setting of a plural Britain.
Guy Hordern helped explain how Christians can have positive influence in the political sphere, and encouraged delegates to consider joining political parties.
For some helpful resources that show the Christian influence in the respective parties’ founding ideologies, please click on the following links:
Liberal Democratic Party
Peter Mitchell (Evangelical Alliance Education Policy Officer) and John Coleby (Evangelical Alliance Policy Officer) spoke on the title of “Faith Seeking Understanding: FBV’s & Life in Modern Britain”, and brought our attention to the topic issues, and helped us consider the approaches we should take in our particular areas of work and influence.