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Education books: Concise lessons in well-being

23 September 2022

Dennis Richards takes his pick of the latest education titles

IT WOULD be hard to over-emphasise the importance of the short volume Religion in Wales, by Russell Sandberg. If I begin by say­ing that the groundbreaking Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act received its Royal Assent in 2021 and became law, and you already knew that, take a bow. It could, and should, perhaps, have far-reaching consequences for the rest of the UK. Let the debate begin. How English educationists react to it will be inter­­esting to see.

Even more interesting, dare I say it, will be the reaction of politicians who tend to espouse more trad­i­tionalist views. Just to be clear: the really “thorny” issue, compulsory col­­lective worship in all schools of all types, remains in place in both Wales and England. One im­­portant caveat is in relation to sixth-form students, who can be with­­drawn “in accordance with the pupil’s own wishes”.

If that also applies in England, as I suspect it now does, nobody told me. I’m even more relieved that nobody seems to have informed the students, either. Had it been the case, and the students got wind of it, we would probably have had enough space for sixth-form “collective worship” in the Head’s office.

You may recall that, in 2015, Charles Clarke (a former Home Sec­retary) and Professor Linda Wood­head, in a highly acclaimed and widely supported report (News, 19 June 2015), recommended that the requirement for collect­ive worship should be abolished.

Three years later, the suggestion had been dropped. There is simply no political or parental ap­­petite for tampering with such a con­tentious sub­­ject.

A classic British “fudge” is in place. As things continue to stand, the law in relation to collective wor­ship is widely disregarded, im­­prac­tical, and subject to an un­­­written consensus. Let sleeping dogs sleep. Or, in this instance, students.

One significant consequence of the pandemic has been the devolved powers in Wales in relation to health, put to the test as never be­­­fore. And, broadly speaking, devolu­tion seems to have worked. Edu­cation is an­­other devolved mat­ter.

The new Education Act in Wales has imposed by law significant changes in relation to RE: hence the importance of this slim volume for the rest of the UK.
Russell Sandberg is Professor of Law at Cardiff University. The book begins with a masterful summary of how the 1944 Act was significantly reinforced, in a “broadly Christian” sense, by the Education Act of 1988. Those with long memories of 1988 may recall the influential Baroness Blatch and her “nostalgic long­­­ing for the explicit reference to Christi­anity”.

So, what’s new in Wales? RE will become Religion, Values and Ethics in Welsh schools, to be known as RVE. It will be mandatory for all schools, excepting nurseries and sixth forms. There is no provision for parental opt-out. RVE will fall under the umbrella of “Humanities”, and be part of the National Cur­ric­ulum for Wales.

There is provision in the Act for local non-mandatory local agree­ments (pace SACREs), and faith schools can add their own specific ideas to the curriculum content, but not replace any of it.

The fundamental principle is that, quite simply, the world has changed. And the pace of that change has been rapid. Religious fundamen­tal­ism of whatever stripe is an ever-present threat. The RVE curriculum in Wales will now more closely re­­flect the UK as it is in the 21st cen­tury, not simply how some groups may wish it to be.
Put simply, the Welsh reforms seek to add religious literacy to nu­­­meracy and literacy in the English lan­­­­guage.

Sandberg’s legal training is evid­ent throughout. He believes that “in­­­ternational norms and changes have animated concerns that the cur­­rent law on religious education in Eng­land is outmoded, and may not be fully compatible with the human right to freedom of religion or be­­lief.”

The new curriculum will cover a spectrum of different faiths and non-religious views which are considered analogous to religions (e.g. human­ism). So far, with the notable ex­­cep­tion of the Roman Catholic Church, whose response has been rather neg­at­ive, there is positivity in the air. It is an exciting move.

England will inevitably have to take note. Sandberg has done his Eng­­­lish counterparts a great service. The dream of one day building Jeru­salem in “England’s green and pleas­ant land” may have to be trimmed in the first instance. Building a bit of Cardiff there will do for now.

In Flourishing Together, we are in­­vited to look at partnership across the Atlantic. Immensely readable, it is a co-operative venture between the deputy chief education officer for the Church of England, Andy Wolfe, and the chief strategy and inno­vation officer for the Association of Christian Schools International, in the United States, Dr Lynn E.Swaner.

Given the chosen themes, broadly focusing on a vision for our schools on both sides of the Atlantic, a basic understanding of the contextual dif­­ferences is taken for granted. Any Christian educator, given the task of conference organisation for school leaders, will find this attractively priced and presented volume invalu­able.

Apt quotations, and useful acro­nyms for PowerPoint presen­tations abound, in a carefully struc­tured framework. Not surprisingly, in the post-pandemic context, many school leaders will be eager to take on board any useful new ideas in relation to well-being.

“Education is in a hurry.” Around the UK, schools are facing a government-directed “back to normal” agenda. Perfectly under­standable, you might say. The ques­­tions for reflection in the well-being chapter here may not particularly con­­­cern our current Secretary of State. But they will dominate school leaders’ thinking in 2022-23. For example: “How might the cate­­gor­isation or ranking of students affect their well-being?”

The sole caveat? Acute pressure on school budgets may preclude any time for reflection next year. In that case, this book will be a gift from heaven.

Right on cue, Grove Education has come up trumps again. Anne Lumb, in Creating a Culture of Well-Being, produces a well-being booklet, packed into 30 pages for the usual £4 or so, to complement the above. Her thesis is straightforward. And her CV speaks for itself. If the staff are unhappy, stressed, and feel un­­­cared for, the students are likely to be in much the same mood.

Of her many apposite questions, one will suffice: “What structures are in place for monitoring and support­ing teacher well-being?” Answer that one well, and you’re on the path to recovery.


Religion In Schools: Learning lessons from Wales
Russell Sandberg
Anthem Press £20.99


Flourishing Together
Lynn E.Swaner and Andy Wolfe
Wm. B. Eerdmans £15.45
Church Times Bookshop £17.90


Creating a Culture of Well-Being: Nurturing the whole school community
Anne Lumb
Grove Education £3.95

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