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Education: Read all about it

25 September 2015

Dennis Richards welcomes recent publications for those involved in religious education, chaplaincy, and youth work

Religious Education. How do I do it? (www.janlevereducationconsultancy.com, £20 (CT Bookshop £18)), is the product of a collaboration between the publishers and the Oxford University Department of Education. Because many of us ask this same question, even after years in the classroom, a booklet with such a pithy title is bound to be of interest. So, does the catchy title work?

Yes, most definitely. Refreshingly jargon-free, the booklet offers an eight-step approach to teaching RE in a primary school. The questions asked, to enable teachers to embark on the journey to becoming an RE teacher, could not be easier to understand — nor do they shy away from what many young teachers will ask. Why am I being asked to do this? Where do I sit with this? These are the starting points.

The “how to teach it”, and “with what resources” come next. From then on, it is packed with ideas and schemes of work that are enough to gain an “Outstanding” grade in curriculum RE. Any head teacher would be delighted to hand on this booklet to a newly qualified teacher, knowing that they would have access to the best and most up to date thinking on the subject.

It is a rare privilege to be invited to review a volume written by a former colleague, John Caperon (he was for several years deputy head of St Aidan’s C of E High School, Harrogate), especially one so representative of his thinking and values as A Vital Ministry: Chaplaincy in schools in the post-Christian era (SCM Press, £19.99 (£17)).

Head teachers are a diverse group, with very different ways of dealing with retirement when it inevitably comes. Some retire gleefully to the golf course and the cruise ship; others take on lucrative consultancies; and, occasionally, a former colleague will appear in another guise completely: working in a bookshop, or as a tour guide, perhaps.

Caperon retired from the headship of Bennett Memorial Diocesan School, after several years of distinguished service, and promptly took on the directorship of the Bloxham Project, which, in its latest incarnation, became the main support group for school chaplains.

His experience as a head teacher, his 30 years as a self-supporting priest, and his years as a school chaplain have led him to the conclusion that “the ministry of school chaplains is the most significant single point of contact between the Church and the secondary-age young.”

The volume in question is a doctoral thesis, encapsulating the author’s experience and thinking on the subject. Particularly impressive in its description of “where we are” in relation to young people and the Church — based, no doubt, on the “nitty gritty” of his years as a secondary school head — the heart of the book lies in the term “ministry of presence”.

The term is not just an academic one. The part played by a school chaplain is pastoral, pedagogic, liturgical, spiritual, missional, and prophetic. In other words, Caperon has given us, for the time being at least, the very last word in relation to chaplaincy in schools. Given all the current debate about education and values, its publication is particularly timely.


A SCHOOL chaplain, or any Christian youth worker, or indeed assembly taker, could well appreciate twin volumes from the pen of Martin Saunders. The Ideas Factory: 100 adaptable discussion starters to get teens talking (Monarch, £11.99 (£10)) is accompanied by The Think Tank (Monarch, £12.99, (£11.70)). The format is simple. An incident from the press, a story, or an anecdote from more or less anywhere triggers a discussion, leading on to a “digging deeper” section, each incident concluding with a relevant comment from the Bible.

There is enough here to last a youth leader a long time, although the sameness of the format might become tedious after a while. The volumes were reissued last month in a splendidly refurbished version.

When an author strongly recommends that “you do not view it simply as a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card, to be pulled out at the last minute”, he has probably guessed that that is precisely what will happen. And why not? Hard-pressed teachers and youth workers simply do not have the time to do the painstaking research that the author has put into the production of this volume. It is highly recommended as just the kind of dip-in, dip-out resource you need on Sunday evening, when you remember that, as well as everything else, you are expected to lead assembly on Monday morning.

Living the Lord’s Prayer: Turning the school upside down, by Ian Terry (Grove Education, £3.95 (£3.56)) begins with a familiar but delicious anecdote. A ship is sinking in the middle of a storm, and the captain calls out to his crew.

“Does anyone here know how to pray?”

“Yes, sir,” comes the reply. “I know how to pray.”

The captain replies: “Wonderful. You pray, while the rest of us put on the life jackets. We’re one short.”

Cynical it may be, but it opens up a thoughtful discussion about how this most familiar of texts can have an impact on the life of a school. I am unsure about the sub-text in the title. Most head teachers of my acquaintance are trying to keep the ship on an even keel — afloat, even — rather than turn it upside down.

That said, the “manifesto” approach for a church school is an appealing one. Having the Lord’s Prayer as a values statement for the school is a great idea, and this excellent booklet shows us how to interpret it in that context. You could do the same with, say, the Magnificat, or Psalm 23. Grove Books, take note! All for about the same price as a pint — and immeasurably better value.

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