A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
From today’s Gospel: ‘The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom and the favour of God was upon him.’
From our collect for today:
We pray that the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ may dispel the darkness of ignorance and unbelief, and reveal the knowledge of our glory.
Both of these extracts which we have already heard this morning help to focus our thoughts I hope on today’s theme – Faith Schools. To those of you not involved with education, those of you who do not have young children or grandchildren at school, those of you who are not yet ready to have to make a decision about which school to enrol your child at for the future, might not be totally aware of what we mean by Faith Schools.
Faith Schools are schools that subscribe to a specific faith or denomination – Anglican, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu etc and the Faith through its Governing Body, can direct the way and time and content of the syllabus which the school provides – within limits of course.
To take the Church of England as an example, Voluntary Controlled Church of England schools are similar to state schools but they usually have a very strong link with the parish church and its community, and of course most of its RE teaching follows the Diocesan Agreed Syllabus for RE and there is a strong emphasis on daily worship. A Voluntary Aided School runs in a similar way but the Governors do have the right to provide their own RE syllabus if they wish, to promote for example, a distinctive denominational direction, based on its Trust or Foundation Deed– hence its worship and teaching may be obviously evangelical or Anglo Catholic for example.
A State or Community School on the other hand must teach RE but it cannot be distinctive of any particular denomination. There is also more in-house freedom about which parts of the RE Syllabus they follow and how daily worship is conducted.
Of course most CoE schools exist in country parishes and were established and financed by the Anglican Church to serve the very local population long before State Education was provided and most of them are in fairly affluent parts of the country.
But enough of the History. One of the very contentious issues facing Religious Education at present is the argument over how Faith Schools should be funded, or whether they should exist at all, as many sections of society see them as divisive, segregationist and elitist. The debate over the existence of Faith Schools is already starting to raise its head above water in pre-election debates, with at least two Party Leaders giving their 100% support to their continued existence and already sending their children to such schools.
So what is the attraction, what is the conflict. The main conflict issue is over indoctrination – that Faith schools promote a specific faith which is seen by some members of the community as being a legal form of proselytising- promoting your beliefs above those of another faith and influencing the minds of the young. The Education Act does not allow this in State schools – although it does say that most School Acts of Worship must be predominantly Christian as we are still ( so they say) a Christian Country. A daily Act of worship is mandatory in all schools – naturally so in Faith schools but in Community Schools often only reluctantly consisting of a prayer lost among the notices and soccer team scores and tellings off!
So why, one might ask, is there such a demand on available places in Faith Schools – why on the whole, are their reputations so high, their results usually way above the scores of neighbourhood schools? Lots of reasons – their location – the majority in desirable village setting ; their size – many smaller classes than average and therefore more individual tuition – just two answers to set you thinking, but the one that I think decides the choice in most people’s minds is values. Not monetary/financial values but moral, spiritual and religious values upon which Faith schools place significantly more emphasis than most community schools. I’m not suggesting for one minute that community schools do not promote such values, but in Faith Schools, these values are part and parcel of the whole ethos of the school, they mark what the school stands for, they are promoted and evident in the way the children treat one another, in the way staff relate to one another and in the way that time is allowed for developing the whole child, not only physically and academically but spiritually too. In faith schools, great emphasis is placed on encouraging children to recognise and appreciate their creation as children of God; they are encouraged to appreciate and respect difference and diversity; to seek for meaning in life; to discover how to deal with emotions, and experiences of sorrow and joy, of success and failure, birth and death; they are challenged to reflect upon Christian values of love, forgiveness and service to others. And above all, they are helped to open their eyes in wonder and awe to the mystery of creation that is the work of the hand of God.
It is vitally important that young people are equipped to face these experiences, to explore them and to begin to address the question, What does it mean to be a religiously educated person?
Faith schools are I believe the surest vehicle that can help them to discern what is of value both within and outside religious traditions, and how these can contribute to their own physical, moral and spiritual development. Religious education offers opportunities for children to come closer to an understanding of God’s place in our lives and the Faith School is the best seed ground in which to explore this revelation. A good faith school does not seek to impose religious belief nor compromise the integrity of their own belief by promoting one religion over another, but it does provide safe and compassionate environment in which to explore matters that are essential to the child’s spiritual development.
Some of you might say that most of what I have said so far goes on in any school – Faith school or State school. True, but there is a big difference. In a faith school one can expect that syllabus, teachers and all staff are committed to the faith which the school affirms – that the faith which the school proclaims is part of the school’s way of life, not just another curriculum subject, that it motivates and inspires all that goes on in the school, and that the answer to the frequent question Why? comes naturally, without embarrassment, and with conviction: The answer comes, – because that is what Jesus taught us to do, or say, or how to behave.
Faith is something that has been passed down from generation ton generation – Christian, Muslim, Hindu and so on. But as Christians we are a people of a Faith of hope, hope in the resurrection to eternal life with Christ Jesus in heaven. Some would argue that children should be left to make up their own minds when they grow up. I couldn’t agree more, but unless we give them the evidence and experiences that we have found persuasive, what material will they have to enable them to make up their minds? If we fail to open the eyes of our young people to that promise of hope, we not only do them an injustice, we actually betray them. Our Faith is a legacy which it is our privilege to pass on to the next generation and the united example of parents, church and school is the surest way that I know of doing that. Pray for our Faith schools, pray for their children, pray for the staff and pray for the parents that the legacy we hand on to our children will enable them to grow and become strong, full of wisdom and find favour with God.