Today we went for a day out to London to the Strategic Schools Work conference organised by Jason & Rachel Gardner at The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
Let me first post respect and thanks to LICC for their high standard of hospitality.
As ever, these occasions provide a great opportunity to think about our work in a broader context and to mix with others involved in similar work. Here are my initial reflections.
The day reminded me that schools work, in all its breadth and diversity, is still a field all of it’s own. Although it’s a bit like youthwork, the context of schools work sets it apart, requiring a balance of skills and values different to anything else. The three way bridging of cultures (young people, school, church) raises particular issues, a number of which were helpfully explored during the day.
Lee Jackson [blog] from Leeds Faith in Schools shared a number of tips before moving on to partnership working and schools work, illustrated with examples from the situation in Leeds. In short, we need to ensure we’re working with people, not in competition with them and there may be occasions where we recognise that a need can be better met by another organisation than ours, even to the point of helping them to get started. We’re in Kingdom business – no one is helped by competition.
Chris Curtis [blog] from Luton Churches Education Trust shared a bit about upcoming trends in education, most of which I hope are not unknown to you, but all of which should keep us alert to new opportunities. The current and ongoing rebuilding programme in all schools could have a positive impact on the kind of spaces that become available, in contrast to the classroom or corridor option which most of us encounter at the moment. Curriculum changes could demote the significance or frequency of assemblies or RE lessons which could end up being absorbed into other parts of the curriculum or school life. Although change is slowly creeping up, much is positive with schools increasingly working in partnerships and welcoming a spiritual, moral and diversity agenda.
Chris then gave some creative examples of spiritual development from their work including the Easter Stations of the Cross poster activity that involved students reinterpreting eight themes from the crucifixion narrative. The resulting reflections and artwork were combined with a one line description of the relevant part from the crucifixion story into 8 wall sized posters which were displayed around the schools. This in turn led to further discussion with students. Click on the pic to see all the posters on Flickr.
John Stephenson from Scripture Union spoke after lunch outlining the history of schools work and the decline in Biblical knowledge and understanding that underpinned most schools work and mission right up to the late 80’s. Again, none of this should be new to anyone working in the field of youth or schools work, but John brought into sharp focus the absolute essential of making the Bible known through the work we do. His conclusion?
We need to engage in foundational teaching, allowing young people to interact with and handle the Bible so that they can access the stories people once knew as part of popular culture.
We must retell God’s big story, not just the individual stories. We are engaged in telling a Kingdom story and without this perpective young people can easily end up drawing their own conclusions from the text. John gave examples from The Biblos Project, a partnership between the Bible Society and Exeter University School of Education. For example, according to a Year 9 student the story of David and Goliath means you should believe in yourself.
As a quick aside, there may be some parallels here with my observation in this post below that young people bring their own meaning to films. There are some insightful comments from others about reality, metaphor, and the interpretation of Biblical texts.
John emphasised the need for Bible engagement, not just Bible knowledge. And finally, we need to live the story as part of every day life.
So, all in all a very good day and very good value too. (Can’t say the same for One Railway who turned in a reasonable performance but at immense cost!)
Finally, you may wish to keep an eye on the Schoolswork web site which is in the process of a revamp and will be relaunched at some point in what I interpret to be the near future (!). The intention is that it will be a significant source of news, content and interaction for all those engaged in schools work.