On Saturday 11th June, after cancelling the conference multiple times due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, CCFE was finally able to host it’s annual conference which was entitled ‘Christian Values and Education in a Rapidly Changing Culture: Equipping Christians for influence in Education Settings.’
Having held previous conferences in London and Oxford, this year it was held at Broadway Academy School in a very multi-cultural area of Birmingham. Apart from enjoying some wonderful food and hospitality provided by the team at Broadway, delegates were treated to talks from keynote speakers and highly practitioners which sought to equip them for influencing a variety of educational settings.
Education and Personhood
Dr Michael Nazir-Ali spoke of the important role that schools play in how children form their identity and sense of personhood. Identity is formed various ways, not least through relationships with parents, siblings, other family and friends. Whilst not forgetting the primary responsibility of parents to educate their children and teach them about morality, a child’s relationships with teacher and fellow pupils will have a significant impact on their identity and how they choose to engage with society.
Teaching about respect for persons, whoever they are and whatever their back- ground, is central, of course, to helping children to become good citizens. Equality is about the equality of persons in dignity and liberty which is something ultimately found in the knowledge that each person is made in the image of God. Schools should make sure that regard for such equality is well understood by their pupils. However, this is not the same as saying that every kind of view about human identity/lifestyle/behaviour is equal. Whilst diversity in these areas can be discussed, in appropriate ways, it is important for schools to work with parents as they seek to nurture the next generation.
Understanding the promotion of RSE and Christian Responses to it
Steve Beegoo, Head of Education at Christian Concern, spoke about how Relationships and Sex Education is being taught in some schools and dangers of children being indoctrinated by confusing and harmful agendas. Much of what is being taught is schools has its origins in ‘Queer Theory’ which states that there is no objective reality and that society is structured on unjust power systems. The traditional ‘normal’ categories and meanings of sex, gender and sexuality (and therefore, by implication, the Christian/biblical worldview from where these categories come from) are oppressive and people must be liberated from this. Stonewall and other similar organisations produce resources and take assemblies for children. Given they cannot describe sexual intimacy otherwise it becomes Sex Education, it must be described it in child friendly language. They use definitions such as: Lesbian – two females who love each other. This could be potentially confusing for younger children who are likely to prefer same-sex friendships into thinking that, because they ‘love’ their same-sex friend, they should therefore identify as gay or lesbian.
It is important for parents and teachers to be aware of what the law says on this issue and schools are being taken to court for not consulting with parents with regard to how RSE is being taught and for promoting LGBT themes. Delegates were invited to consider whether they are being called to an Esther or Daniel as we seek to protect our children at this time.
Serving the school and wider community as a Christian Headteacher
Ron Skelton has been the Headteacher of Broadway Academy since 2008. The school serves a diverse population and, like many major cities, is affected by gang and drug culture. Ron involves himself in community life through his role as Chair of the West Midlands Police Advisory Board and the schools itself is a centre of many local activities. It was so encouraging to see and hear how Broadway Academy, underpinned by a strong Christian ethos, is able offer a better story for young people and engage effectively cross cultural/racial boundaries. For example, On the same day that the conference was held, an Asian food market was also taking place at the school and the sports facilities were being used by a local football club.
As part of this session, it was also inspiring to hear the testimonies of two current students at Broadway. They are clearly thriving in their education, having sometimes struggled in certain subjects due to a lack of confidence. It was reminder of the impact that teachers can have, which linked back to what Dr Michael said in the opening session about the formation of personhood.
After lunch, delegates had the option to attend one of a variety of seminars. The topics ranged from perspectives on Religious Education to Values and Ethics in Leadership. These were delivered by experienced practitioners, including many of the Broadway staff, and Dan Belcher who is the senior Education Lead at the Schools, Students and Teachers Network.
The seminar which was led by two Newly Qualified Teacher was a particular encouragement to me. They spoke about “Following the Lord as an NQT” and it was clear that they had so much passion for their faith and this flows into their work with students. They acknowledged that sometimes the work is stressful but were convinced that God has placed in this job for a reason and if they were able to impact the life of even just one child in a positive way then any difficulties would be worth it. They were clearly a source of mutual support for each other and I left imaging how amazing it would be if there were one or teacher like this in every school.
For various reasons, not least people getting used to in person events again after the pandemic, we had fewer people attend this conference that previous ones. However, this meant that sixty or so who attended were able to get to know one other and network effectively. Closing the conference by summarising the main discussion points, It was felt that was important that the connections made the conference are maintained. Initiatives such as Newley Qualified Teacher Network which is being developed by the Association of Christian Teachers was mentioned as just one way that this could happen.
CCFE is considering plans for a conference in 2023 so do keep an eye out for updates on this. In the meantime, do consider to connecting to one or more of the organisations which make up CCFE and/or were present at the conference.
Christian Concern: https://christianconcern.com/
Fertile Heart: https://fertileheart.org.uk/
The Independent Schools Christian Alliance: https://tisca.org.uk/events/
Association of Christian Teachers: https://christian-teachers.org.uk/