Sleeping Beauty Awakens
Blessed Hope Publishing £21
Collins GCSE Religious Studies Revision and Practice: New curriculum
Collins £10.99 (available to schools in bulk at £3.99, from Harper-
Church Times Bookshop £9.90
How to See Collective Worship Anew
Grove Education £3.95
Church Times Bookshop £3.55
The Comic Mystery Plays
Exiled Publications £5.99
IN RECENT years, Howard Worsley has been a prolific contributor to much of the academic research into Christian education in both faith schools and community schools. Currently the Vice-Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, and married to the Bishop of Taunton, his voice has been an important one.
There are two important caveats about Sleeping Beauty Awakens that should not deter the general reader. First, the rather strange title is made even stranger by the subtitle: A theological response on how the curse of separation can be removed from Christian education. Second, the typeface is so small that it makes the text difficult to read.
All of which is a shame, because I believe this to be an extremely important book. You almost get the impression that the author has been waiting to write this book for most of his adult life.
Brought up in the Plymouth Brethren (the exclusive variety), the author describes his journey from an “all pervasive subculture that framed my family’s thought” through to his emancipation and an academic career.
As with many Brethren children, he expresses gratitude for the more positive bits of his inheritance, and some surprise that his faith, albeit in a very different form, lives on.
Nor is the book without humour. His fellow survivors of a Brethren childhood — of whom I am also one — will cherish his account of his first attempt at ministry in the “morning meeting”. He was eight years old.
The Plymouth Brethren continue to be small in number, and invariably punch above their weight; but they have always had the same problem: what to do about their children’s education? The dilemma is acute. They value scholarship and learning — provided, of course, that the scholarship and learning that their children receive respect a fundamentalist interpretation of scripture. The conundrum is obvious, and is acute when it comes to Brethren children in state schools.
As a head teacher of a church school, I was aware that a number of Brethren families in the locality preferred to send their children to the community school rather than to a faith school, where the children were at risk of being exposed to some supposedly dangerous liberal theology.
And so to the Focus Learning Trust, and this volume’s significant contribution towards its exposure. Funded entirely by Plymouth Brethren families, the trust has been able to use the freedoms granted by recent government legislation to set up its own schools, where the children will be, according to Brethren thinking, “safe”.
This is an important story: it has implications for all kinds of separatist education establishments, including similar models developed by Muslim groups. In 2013, there were 28 campus sites across the UK with 42 schools and 3402 children in schools. This book deserves a wide readership, and a reprint in a more accessible form.
IN THE classroom, the word on the street is that teachers are struggling with the new GCSE RS syllabus, currently being delivered in Year 10 for first examinations next year. It was a noble idea to enforce the idea of the compulsory study of two main religions. It might have been helpful, and worked better, had the syllabus planners worked harder to reduce the content and strip out the “boring” bits.
At the moment, from what I can see, the teachers are under stress, and the students are disaffected.
The Collins GCSE Religious Studies Revision, published in January, will concentrate minds wonderfully. I suspect that it will need to be in use quickly, long before the panic button is normally pressed. It is great value, too.
AS USUAL, Grove Books has come up trumps with How to See Collective Worship Anew, which is unashamedly written for church schools. While the Act of Collective Worship remains a legal requirement, volumes such as this are always welcome.
Alison Brown wants another look and another go at a more theological underpinning of collective worship. I confess that I did not fully understand her critique of the status quo and practice in many schools. The school community, typically, she says, simply hears the message of collective worship as “Be good . . . because Jesus says so.” Still, it seems like a good idea to me.
CHRIS LAMBERT’s The Comic Mystery Plays are an inspiring idea for next year’s Easter services in primary schools. Teachers always appreciate a volume that does the job for them, and the scripts of these nine sketches will save hours of work for drama teachers.
They have an intriguing background: based loosely on the medieval mystery plays, they are in turn poignant, humorous, and trenchant. Furthermore, they take the Mystery Cycles from York and Wakefield as their inspiration. And, as any Yorkshireman will tell you, you cannot do better than that.