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The blog

A two hour travelogue

posted by Robert Hall Friday 18th April 2014

The other Sunday afternoon I climbed the Worcestershire Beacon, one of the Malvern Hills. It’s a climb of over a thousand feet and, at my age and condition, a useful exercise. I love walking for all the obvious reasons, including the ability to think, talk to God and work things out in a way which I cannot do in the office.  My eyesight is deteriorating, so the view from the top was not as clear as once it was, yet to look over our beloved kingdom, created by God for His purpose, is still a joy. Praise Him!

At the very top there is a triangulation point. Although made redundant by satellite technology, four young people sat on three sides with their backs to the concrete. I occupied the fourth side, and together we surveyed the distant horizon. They could doubtless see more clearly than me, but I perhaps knew more about future dreams, achievements and disappointments. I silently prayed for them. They decided to get up and one of the girls said ‘Goodbye’ as she left. How nice to be acknowledged. I prayed for them as they disappeared into the distance. Praise Him!

The going down is frequently more hazardous than the going up and I found myself on loose stones and began to slip. I found myself running downhill to maintain my balance, very grateful for the stick I had brought with me as a last-minute thought. After a few metres, I managed to regain a safe walking pace. Praise Him!

Some time later, as I descended, I met a woman toiling uphill, head down, busy with her smart ‘phone. On her back sat a child of around eighteen months. We stopped to speak and the child gazed at me with the kind of wonder experienced when seeing an elephant for the first time. As I walked on, I prayed for the child, her whole life spread out before her, again with its delights and hazards. Praise Him!

At our evening service I sat by a friend who said he had seen me during my walk, “striding out with a staff like Moses”. Hardly, I thought. On the other hand, all we Christians in education are leaders. Yes, some more than others, but if we have children in our care we are, necessarily, leaders. Like Christian leaders down the years, our business is to seek him when our feet begin to stumble. Let’s ask Him for guidance in our dealings with people. Even in the briefest of exchanges a kind word can be remembered. Praise Him!

What is this world?

posted by Gill Robins Friday 4th April 2014

Earlier this week I spent an enjoyable hour discussing the RSA report ‘Schools with Soul’ (the focus of last week’s blog) with Simon Marsh on his radio show, ‘Caught or Taught’. In the course of the conversation, I mentioned in passing the poem ‘What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare’ – wrongly quoted and wrongly attributed, for which, apologies to the author. It set me thinking though, particularly when I read the whole poem, kindly emailed to me after the broadcast by Robert Hall. Where, in the midst of all our busyness, is there time to watch the world go by; to meditate?

Now there’s a current buzz word – meditate. Anthony Seldon, writing in Resurgence and Ecologist recently, described the value of stillness in school life. Ever ready to embrace any idea that might raise standards, the idea has been picked up by Liz Truss, who is apparently looking at introducing Buddhist mindfulness training into the classroom to help children pay attention (and thereby, of course, increase the potential value of each economic unit, aka each human child). But Christian meditation is quite different from any other form of meditation. It involves focusing your mind on God rather than emptying it or thinking of yourself, and there are three components to Christian meditation. These are: grounding our thoughts in the Bible, responding to the love of God and then worshipping God. The following is written not to improve your well being (although it may) or to improve your work output (although that may be an outcome, too) but just because God is.

Here is the complete version of the poem ‘Leisure’ which I misquoted, written by W.H. Davies, with the Bible verses that it brought to mind. As you breathe a sigh of relief at having made it to the end of another term and as you look forward to a well-earned rest, take time to be still, to meditate and to worship the Lord in the beauty of His holiness, reflected for us in His creation.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—
‘Be still and know that I am God   Psalm 46:10

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
‘ask the animals and they will teach you ... in his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.’  Job 12:7,10

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
‘all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together’  Colossians 1:16-17

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
‘The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands’ Psalm 19:1

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
‘He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has ... set eternity in the hearts of men’  Ecclesiastes 3:11

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
‘Worship the LORD in the splendour of his holiness’ 1 Chronicles 16:29

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
Be still and know that I am God;
I will be exalted’ Psalm 46:10

May you know God’s richest blessing and deepest peace during Easter, as you recharge your batteries for the final lap of the academic year.

Schools with Soul

posted Friday 21st February 2014 by Gill Robins

The Royal Society of Arts published the first of its RSA Investigate-Ed reports this week – a series of planned investigations into key issues which aim to offer ‘new ideas for policy and practice in response to emerging evidence and changing concepts’ to ‘give policy makers, practitioners and other stakeholders structured spaces to diagnose problems and generate solutions.’ The first report, Schools with Soul is an in-depth consideration of the role of spiritual, moral, social and cultural education (SMSC) in our schools – ideals enshrined in the 1944 Education Act.

The report is well worth taking the time to read, with an outline of the history of SMSC education, the details of the investigation and its key findings and, crucially, some design principles and recommendations for a way ahead.

The central premise of the study is that the prevailing culture of measurement and attainment-driven accountability has taken the soul out of schools - an argument which has been well rehearsed in many arenas and which is now fairly widely accepted as being an accurate analysis of current education practice. This relentless drive to raise academic standards has left SMSC in a parlous state, with the sidelining of so-called ‘soft’ skills of possessing a moral compass, being able to empathise with values different from one’s own, and developing resilience and cultural capital. But in the words of American educator Stephen R. Covey, ‘We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey’, and we ignore that reality at our peril.

But while the analysis of current practice and the resulting impact is incisive, and while the nine suggested steps informing future developments are cogently presented, the thinking behind this report did present me with some interesting questions on which Christian teachers might usefully ponder. There are two key research foci:

  • ‘How can we be sure that schools across the UK prioritise the SMSC development of their students alongside their academic development?’
  • ‘How can schools and other partners be supported to influence and impact on pupils’ SMSC development?’

As a Christian, I find puzzling the idea that SMSC education can flow alongside academic education as some sort of significant tributary, rather than forming the current which directs the river itself. Surely it should be embedded in the very DNA of my teaching? Being a Christian teacher isn’t about teaching RE well, taking assembly more often or smiling a lot because I have to be nice. It’s about how I teach, rather than what I teach. It’s about embedding Christian values within whatever subject I am teaching. It’s about how I work with colleagues and the model for human flourishing which I offer to my pupils. Of course explicit teaching of SMSC has its place, but in advising teachers ‘to reflect on their pedagogical repertoire to exploit SMSC-related “teachable moments”’ is to suggest that this is just another bolt-on, rather than the foundation on which we build all that we do.

Another of the findings of the SRA suggests that ‘fear of controversy is leading to an unhelpful ‘sanitisation’ of schools’ SMSC provision’ – again, I find this puzzling. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that the fruit of the Holy Spirit (ie the attributes of a Christian) are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control. These values can’t cause controversy, and what’s more, as the apostle Paul points out in verse 23 ‘Against such things there is no law’ (NIV 1984).  I think this is why faith schools are so successful in creating cohesive communities – they begin with core values and allow them to oxygenate all that they teach.

If, in fear that losing teaching time will impact on standards, you have any doubt about embedding SMSC in the very DNA of what you teach, read the story of Gary Lewis, Head of Kings Langley School. He understands the need to grow pupils holistically and in doing so, the academic standards in the school have risen commensurately.

 The message, I think, is that if pupils are told about values, they might listen. If values are aspirationally modelled, pupils may conform within the school community. But when they see values being lived out daily, making a difference to the lives of real people, then there is a possibility of inner growth. There is no greater challenge to Christian teachers today than that. Do you see your pupils as ‘spiritual beings on a human journey’? If so, how can you support and encourage them as you accompany them on their journey?


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