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Education: A tender but essential work

20 September 2013

What are the characteristics of a church-school student, asks John Pritchard

Confident: students from church schools should be unembarrassed by life's great questions

Confident: students from church schools should be unembarrassed by life's great questions

SO MUCH is changing in education at present, it feels as if we are having to do a refit on an ocean liner while it is still at sea. Normally, you would expect a good time in dry dock.

The result is that schools are having to attend to big tasks in nautical engineering, as well as changing the menus in the dining room. What this means for leadership is that there may seem to be little time for the big question: where are we going?

The 19th-century educator Dr Thomas Arnold came to lead a Christian school at a time when edu-cation in many schools was chaotic. It was obvious to him that he needed a clear vision of what the product of a Christian school should look like. I wonder if we should develop a similar clarity of vision today.

My guess is that a young person emerging from a church school should be seen to have a rounded mental, emotional, spiritual, and social intelligence that enables them to live creatively in the community, because they have had some kind of life-enhancing encounter with the story of Jesus Christ.


MENTAL or academic intelligence is an obvious goal. Every child made in the image of God should have the opportunity to fulfil all the potential that lies within him or her. Christian schools need to be as committed as Michael Gove to raising standards of achievement.

The effectiveness of our schools and academies now rests with us. It cannot be palmed off on local au-thorities. If we care about our chil-dren, we must care about their achievement.

This means new partnerships and alliances, and a golden opportunity for our diocesan boards of education to take their capacity to a new level, and to engage positively with schools outside the normal church family.

Emotional intelligence is a harder skill to grow. How do you teach young people to be more aware of the dynamics of their own emotional life, with all its tricks and puzzles, as a springboard to greater awareness of others, and how they tick?

Many schools and academies have well-developed one-to-one mentor-ing schemes and pastoral support to help young people reflect on, among other things, their emotional "self-and-other awareness". It is tender but essential work.

Spiritual intelligence, potentially, is learned through the whole life of a school, just as the name "Blackpool" runs through a whole stick of rock in my home town. It grows not just through collective worship and RE, but through the spiritual dimension implicit in every subject, including maths.


LORD RUNCIE, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote: "One of the tasks of a church school is about forming people who, however aca-demically and technically skilful, are not reduced to embarrassment by the great questions of life and death, meaning and truth." That alone is a huge task in a culture that is too used to reductionism and instrumentalism.

Social intelligence is developed in community, which means that a Christian school or academy needs to be a community of a particular character, one rooted in the narra-tive of Jesus of Nazareth.

Generally, we remember our social interactions much longer than our conceptual learning; so how we live together, value diversity, handle conflict, laugh at ourselves, and encourage each other will shape our later lives much more than we sus-pect.

This, I suggest, is what our church schools are about: shaping lives with this rich, rounded intelligence. A tree is recognised by its fruits, and a school by its emerging pupils.

The details might be different, but I think Dr Arnold would have approved.


The Rt Revd John Pritchard is Bishop of Oxford. This is an edited version of an address he will give to the Association of Anglican Secondary School Heads this weekend.

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