Category Archives: school

Dear Pupils,

IMG_1877We love it when you succeed. But this isn’t who you are: you are who you were made to be by God who loves you in every twist and turn of your lives. Whether you do well in the eyes of people or whether you really mess up, the Father loves you. Whether your efforts succeed or fail, you are of infinite value in the eyes of the Son.

When you are with us, often you have been hurt and often you struggle. School at its best is like a family. The best we can, we nurture you and help you with the resources we have, with our own failings. But God in his mercy makes this good.

Sometimes as you grow into adulthood you experience deep sadness as the attachments of childhood slip away and you grow up into an increasingly complex world. Your emotions work against you and it hurts. Pain is the way of new life. Through this we work with you as best we can, as near as we can in the transforming power of the Spirit. Sometimes it doesn’t look good and living daily in forgiveness is good news.

As you live your lives now, learn to love who you were and who we were. Build your lives on love not bitterness or regrets. Success isn’t accolades: success is peace and contentment, success is others being blessed by who you have become.

IMG_1875You aren’t the letters after your name. You are the one praying alone, the one visiting the sick, the one caring for the vulnerable. You are the one living victorious in the mess of humanity. You are the light in the darkness. Be who you are.

Philippians 4:8 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

A vision for teacher apprentices

Our school, along with others in the Christian school’s movement, has moved from a position of being family lead to a position of being a ministry to families in the widest sense. Families are sacrificing in order to send their children to Christian schools in the belief that they are the right place for their children to be. This might be a choice before God or a choice made because of the circumstances of a child’s needs. Parents and carers may be believers or unbelievers but all want the best education for the children entrusted to them. To be high quality schools we need to have high quality teachers committed to our ideals.


I believe families are less able than they were when these schools were established to be part of the daily running of Christian schools. Fewer families are able to offer their time for free and so the burden of running the schools has moved to a waged workforce. Our workforce needs paying fairly in order to preserve workers’ households. This makes the schools relatively expensive to run because of current economies of scale. The schools are too small to be sustainable without sacrificial wages or a volunteer workforce.


Christian schools need to build capacity and make strategic plans to do so if they are to be sustainable. Part of this I believe includes the pooling of people resources. Our foundational resource is the people who began the Christian schools movement and have the subject expertise to bring on the next generation of teachers. They are the DNA of the movement.


Given that we believe that this Christian schools movement is part of God’s economy for the local church, where are we being lead? We cannot change our vision because on our circumstances, but we can look at our circumstances and see what they are teaching us about our core task.


I would like to focus on our use of technology and how this empowers us to bring forward a new generation of teachers for our Christian schools. We need people who are Jesus centred, strong in the church and have a heart for the poor. We need people who are committed learners, willing to reflect on their teaching practice. We need the next generation of Christian schools’ leaders trained as teaching practitioners in a technology rich culture.


I believe the context I am describing means we have to move away from a staff who are completely subject focused and specialists, to a staff more learning focused with developing specialisms. I propose an apprenticeship programme for Christian teachers.


We value the gifts of subject leaders but, in a Christian School, it is wisdom we value principally and so we are looking for character leaders who can be supportive in the education of the children. We want learning mentors who are settled in the peace of Christ, love his church and strong in its mission. It is this way of life we want to model to our students, setting them in the path they should follow; to live in the way, truth and life that is Jesus.


The use of technology will enable us to gather our dispersed expertise to a virtual centre. From this virtual centre we can deliver high quality, distinctively Christian curricula, emulating face-to-face tuition, distributed online. Students can then be encouraged in their learning by mentors who are teacher apprentices within the Christian schools, who, as they become more proficient and expert, take a greater role in designing face-to-face personal learning programmes.


Teacher apprentices would need to be comfortably numerate and literate and open to further study. They would need to be part of a discipleship programme or outreach activity within their own churches. The school would be a centre of learning for all its staff with supported professional development. Teaching apprentices should be financed in open studies at a graduate level, preferably in the subjects they are teaching or in Education.


Teaching apprentices who are already graduates should be sponsored in post graduate studies at Masters level.


Teaching apprentices, themselves being learners, will be well placed to help in the personalisation of materials and the design of learning experiences, with the direction of local teaching leaders and the online course directors.  When they have completed their studies they are then able to pursue professional studies or remain in teaching, themselves becoming leaders in the programme.


The vision is, Teaching Apprentices will have good GCSE results in Maths and English and A levels or equivalent in their area of study. Some may already be graduates. They will be embedded in local churches, work part time in our schools and be sponsored in part time or distance delivered studies, either in their subject areas, or in Education. They will be taught to design learning experiences for their students based on a central pool of learning designs overseen by subject specialists. These apprentices will achieve certification of tertiary education or gain a post graduate qualification with vocational experience.


The Open University offers open graduate programmes nationally ( as do local institutions. There are also part time study options. These often take up to 6 years to complete.


The vision needs praying about and discussing.


I would like to explore its feasibility and trial it as a case study in our humanities department (History, Geography and Religious Studies).


I would like someone to explore available graduate programmes and to look at the possibility of developing a government accredited advanced apprenticeship programme ( ).


If there is anyone who would like to explore this with me I would be glad to discuss it. Initially we will need to make online courses and resources available, based on course already being used or provided by examination boards. We will then need to decide how apprentices can be supported locally and online. This will mean finding online subject directors from across the Christian Schools Trust or elsewhere who are enthusiastic about collaborating online.


The Main Thing! Christian Schools.

On returning from the Christian Schools’ Trust conference at Swanwick, Derbyshire, I found my self reflecting on the head-teachers I had met and what was the main thing each of their schools reflected. Most of the schools had been set up 20 or so years ago and many are facing a transition as the founding individuals retire, or pass away. Central to each is a Christ Centred vision

Knowing the main thing, or purpose is important if the vision of each school is to persevere and the school thrive. Vision isn’t static, I believe, but organic; looking to the past but also to the future (a fact highlighted by Mike Simmonds, the main speaker at the conference). There are founding principals that set the agenda for any change in vision that may be necessary. Looking at our school, I would say our main thing is community. For others it appears to be family and for some the Bible (i.e. building Biblical character). I would say our school is also nurturing whereas others are distinctly evangelistic. The community we inhabit and are is not the same community we were and is not the community we want to be. Our current context and and our vision of the future give life to the values that ensure our school will continue to be community focused. 

We all have a measure of each of the above main things in our DNA but knowing what is distinctive helps define the way we are to go. So we are firstly Christ centred, then community focused and nurturing. We are also to some extent family supporting, Biblically founded and evangelistic but this is not our main thing.

So what does being Christ Centred or a Christian School mean. Underpinning each main thing is the conviction that God is the centre, the source of all wisdom and understanding and that we are to love our neighbours. A school that does not serve its local community, stands aloof of the local church and does not reach out in service to others here and abroad  is not a Christian School.

What’s the point of education? A question the local church needs to answer.

I am part of a large evangelical, charismatic church in the UK, the head teacher of a small independent Christian school which, for the most part, is an irrelevance to the community I am part of. The New Frontiers International (NFI) family of churches, which my church is a part of, lauds apostolic spheres in the third world that set up schools but is indifferent and sometimes antagonistic to my life’s task.

Before I joined an NFI church, I was part of a small locally grown fellowship and before that, a Roman Catholic. Taking a responsibility for the education of the children of the church and if possible having a school was important. In the former case this was because we believed God had called us to be a set apart people and in the latter because Catholic tradition is that Catholics educate Catholics. As a pupil in a large Comprehensive in South Wales where there was no Catholic school, we were removed from RE lessons and the priest came in and taught us Catechism each Friday lunch time. The church cared and its actions taught me that my faith was important.

If I look around at the schools in this area, most were established by the church. The buildings of the original local village school nestle beside the huge Rectory, presumably an establishment similar to those we see in novels like Jane Eyre, set up by local churches or ministers (Charlotte Brontë, 1847) to educate the poor.

St. John Rivers, the pious minister and suitor to Jane says of his parish“… I will exert myself to the utmost for its improvement. Morton, when I came to it two years ago, had no school: the children of the poor were excluded from every hope of progress. I established one for boys: I mean now to open a second school for girls.” (Chapter 30 )

Newport Free Grammar, now a thriving comprehensive, was founded by a bequest from Joyce Franklands in the 16th century, a pious woman, who after losing her husband and son, determined to bestow her wealth on young scholars to “…season them in the Bible and the doctrines of the Church of England.” There is the Public School, Felsted, set up to win favour with God for Lord Riche, established in 1564 using the wealth Riche had gathered from the dissolution of the monasteries. Later the school was favoured by Puritans, a notable pupil being Oliver Cromwell.

More recently, Bishops Stortford College and The Friends School in Saffron Walden were established by communities of faith. These schools were as much political statements as educational establishments. They were set up as a reaction to the dominance of Anglicanism and the forced compliance with the tenets of the State Church through education. These were non-conformist schools set up by people who were dissenters from Anglicanism and would not conform to its demands or allow their children to be educated in what they believed to be that church’s false doctrines. Their beliefs excluded them from established schools. In setting up their own schools they revolutionised the education system churning out young businessmen and technologists and prospered.

For the most part, all these schools are now secularised as is our whole educational system. We live in a pluralistic society and in our schools the voices of many and no religions speak and in theory all voices are heard. Some of the things being said may not be to our taste but are tolerated if they are not hateful. This is the dogma of our secular state.

To some extent this is to be welcomed. The Christianity I encountered in schools was largely dead and dull, delivered too frequently by spiritually dead people. It is a good thing that these false teachers are not permitted to deliver hypocrisy or enabled to preach a false gospel.

Pluralism also enables Christians to work with integrity within the system living out a personal gospel before their students. In fact the curriculum encourages teachers to share their beliefs in a way that demonstrates respect and introduces pupils to a wide variety of viewpoints. It also demands accountability.

The society we are part of, values education and is committed to universal provision financed by the state. The state is committed to pluralism and, through its aims and values, promotes, “…our relationships, as fundamental to the development and fulfilment of happy and healthy lives, and to the good of the community.”

Theoretically Christians should feel safe in the hands of the state and free to work within the system. Despite this in 1989 I was part of a group of Christians who set up a small Independent Christian School and continue to be its head teacher.

The principal drive was, as a community, to be salt and light by living an alternative way. We also felt very strongly that our children needed to be protected from the consequences of living this in an unsupportive culture. We felt responsible for their education and were privileged to have the resources to open a school.

For many of the parents who now send their children to our school it is this that continues to be their first goal; that their children feel happy and safe and are enabled to succeed freed from the pressures of a hostile culture. The alternative way, espoused by the founding church, has been lost and found to be wanting, so much so, that the original church fell apart. In the place of this alternative way is a vacuum to be filled. This is a parable of what has happened to education in the UK.

There is an undefined sense that we deliver a Christian World View. We also claim to have shared values but there is little discussion of these and often we only address them in times of crisis. There is little stomach for the process that would be necessary to arrive at an agreed set of values or a mechanism for accountability within them. It appears to work on a day to day basis. For this reason, wider leadership impetus is lacking and we are constantly defending or attacking values, rarely building consensus.

And this purposelessness I feel extends into the churches with regard to education. Do we as local churches actually hold a view about how the children, God gives us as a gift, should be educated? Our honest answer would have to be, we don’t, and we depend on the state to work it out, picking up the pieces when it goes wrong, not engaging in the process. We like to pretend that things are basically alright so why interfere.

To build a consensus on child rearing and education would be painful for many churches and risky. For the most part we are ploughing resources into extra curricular activities and youth events and effectively hoping that the educational leaders amongst us are being sufficiently blessed so as not to need the help of the church. Individuals are purposeful but the local church appears directionless as to the classroom.

Parenting is a gift from God. All work is a vocation; a calling. Children need training and guiding in the role they are to fulfil. Education means preparation and schooling is time set aside for training. The state has enabled all children to have their early years set aside to learn in the belief that they will become productive and good citizens, happy and of benefit in society. The local church needs to be at the forefront of defining this space.

In the modern world, education means preparing a child to leave the family and become self dependent, able to provide for their own and others through taxes and charity. Not many are able to follow a family trade and be apprenticed into it. Learning is complex and its content dynamic. Being able to learn effectively is as much a requirement as knowing a lot of static information and having specific skills. This-day demands flexible learners with adaptable skills.

But without a purpose so many drift and work is not a blessing. We live in probably the most materially blessed times there have been but we are the unhappiest of nations with deep anxiety, drug abuse and poor sexual health. Many of our young people are really just drifting and this is not because of a lack of schooling.

Proverbs says that in times of need we need to tend to our flocks because they feed from the grass of the hills and provide us with clothing for our backs, meat and milk. In other words get back to basics. The church thrives when it gets back to the basics of serving the needs of its local flock and should look at schooling.

Scripture says that if you don’t work you shouldn’t expect to eat and that work is good as it keeps our hands from evil and provides for the poor. It is a shameful thing if we do no provide for our families and we are encouraged to look after the interest of our own families and those around us rather than expect the church to look after them or depend on the state.

These basic purposes are built on the bedrock of a Christian world view; we believe we are created by God and loved by him; we know our nature is fallen, and we reject that love by sinning. Our faith is that meaning and purpose in our lives is only to be found in redemption from sin through Christ. In Christ we are able to realise the joy of being loved by God and live the lives he has called us to. This for me is my mandate as a parent and as the head teacher of a school.

A Christian world view is foundational to giving the purpose behind learning. And where this purposeful education is lacking we find problems. We are not talking here of religion or Biblicism we are talking about teaching firmly embedded in the mission of the church to reach the lost and serve the poor. A Christ like school is at its heart a school that reaches out to serve the community; it is the focus of a ripple of blessing. The impact of each lesson should first be that the student is blessed, those around them and then the community they are part of. In this way the Kingdom of God is established in hearts.

It’s not about character programmes, it is not about bible teaching; it is about encountering God in what is being taught. How does this happen? Well we are no better than those who teach us, says Jesus. He also tells us that the Kingdom of God is inside us and if we cleanse the inside then the outside will be made holy.

Christ like education is an education with the expectation that Christ will be established in the hearts of the learners and is achieved as the teachers seek to establish Christ in their own hearts. A Christ like school is one that employs teachers who are clearly walking with God, in the church, serving the poor and grounded in prayer and the Bible; does not overstretch its teachers and recognises that God works so that he might rest with his people and so takes care that the teachers are rewarded and rested, and does not forget the poor in everything it does. Most schools by this definition are a work in progress and always will be. In fact even the most secular of schools can be viewed as somewhere on this journey and God blesses them too.

I am not saying that the church in the UK should be exclusively opening such schools but I do not believe it should be doing nothing. Parents should be choosing their schools on the basis of who is teaching and leading as much as what is being taught. Churches should be providing and training school governors, lunch time assistants, support assistants, library assistants, caretakers, cleaners, teachers and school leaders. Churches should be training up and celebrating those able to go into schools to demonstrate and support Christian values.

And so there may not be the need in your area to open a school because the poor are ill served; there may not be the need to open a school because opportunities are being denied those of faith; there may not be a need to open a school because what is being taught attacks your faith. But is what you are choosing not to do honouring to God, reaching the lost and caring for the poor?

Maybe as Christians we should collectively move into areas of poor educational provision, encouraging gifted people into key positions of influence. We might consider opening good schools in areas of deprivation in the UK as well as abroad. We should be training leaders schooled in a Christian World View and guiding our best into positions of influence. The world has done this with the Teaching First Programme with respect to academic achievement. Should we be providing a Christian equivalent and be steering our gifted young people into a time in education?

We are not the church if we do nothing.

Interactive broom handle

Was at “Building motivation and attainment in mathematics” meeting at King’s College today. The best idea of the day was John Smith’s IBH; basically it is a broom handle marked off in 10cm with insulating tape bands… a stripy pole.

On one of the stripes he places a zero and then takes a card, say 8 and puts it on one of the other stripes and encourages counting. He used it to generate fractional counting (…,0,   ,   , 8…) and counting up using algebraic expressions, (0, 2a+b, 4a+2b,…) It was a simple but powerful tool.

John Smith is Senior Mathematics Advisoy, Bury LA.

Personal Learning Environment

Accessible at
I’ve started to work on a personal learning environment I can share with my pupils. I hit upon Symbaloo as being a good paltform. You simply add tiles of sites and resources, some of which are available ready made and there is a way of making your own. What I liked about thid tool was that you could create your own mix of tiles which you could share and update with pupils as your ideas evolved and more powerfully they could develop and share their own mixes.

I hit upon the idea through this video I saw of a pupil using symbaloo on a blog; Teach Web

The interface is accesible directly from the school web site and contains links to a shared Google Docs folder where teachers can upload work and collaborative documents can be worked on. There is also access to other resources that are used regularly during lessons and School Social Network sites. This is a developing idea but has already proved more popular than the Moodle site. I suspect it is the element of pupil ownership.

My first experiment was to use a collaborative document in Google Docs to enable the students to write their own Geography Exam. This was a fantastic idea as it brought about some interactive revision; some student lead assessment of what we had learned and an evaluation of what’s worth committing to memory.

Also took some of the stress out of the whole process, especially for the first timers in year 7 to see what might appear in the final paper.

Natural History Museum

This Friday saw me on a train with Y7 to Y11 heading for London. We’re a tiny school so this sort of thing is quite easy to organise and the kids are on our side so we always have a wonderful time.

We divided into two groups when we got there. There was a slight delay as the museum staff confiscated all the scissors from the pupils pencil cases then off we went to the Human Body exhibit. Great fun was had around the genetics and reproduction bit and we enjoyed re-entering the womb. We pulled leavers to learn about muscles and bones and then learned about the brain. The exhibits were hands on and multimedia but we had to intervene quite a lot  to get any learning out of the experience. Next the dinosaurs which was all thrills. Some effort had been made to make the exhibit educational but it was a lot of shock and awe.

But this was not the aim of the visit. we were there to take part in an hands-on investigation centre experience. This was lead by an enthusiastic young lady ably helped by 3 other informed and helpful assistants. The children were really in to it. They devised questions, interrogating what they saw and the museum staff helped them go deeper with their investigations. Half way through they were allowed to search on computers to answer some of their questions about the exhibits that didn’t involve measuring and drawing. Everyone was fully engaged and learning. The interaction with the staff was fantastic. An hour was soon over and everyone left happy.

What’s my point? Well the next exhibit we visited was the cocoon. A huge white egg of a thing encased in glass built on the end of the museum, a part of the Darwin Centre. It was high tech. Each of us had a card which collected what we had found through interrogating consoles about the exhibit. We could then log on to a web site when we got home and find out more. It was hard work. As teachers we had to direct and guide so that the children would get something out of this circus. The exhibit was beautiful and packed with activity and opportunity to wonder. My point is,  it took time to access the exhibit; there needed to be intervention. The technology didn’t work without the human element.

I was proud to be the teacher and really pleased with my students as they experienced our value as well as the value of the experience.