After 15 years as Director of Education Canon Jon Richardson retired this week. So we asked him for his reflections on his time with our diocese and the challenges that face church schools in the months and years to come.
Jon Richardson is best described as unflappable. A calm presence in whatever storm that is raging Jon is the type of person you want to have in the pressured education environment. With a track record in local authority education – when he worked for Liverpool City Council he supported our diocese and the Archdiocese on developing our first joint primary school Emmaus in Croxteth.
That experience attracted Jon to our diocese “as a Christian working in a local authority working on Emmaus school was an inspirational project to work on” he says adding he has found "the relationship with the Archdiocese a very productive, supportive and meaningful partnership and the schools that have emerged from the partnership have been very significant.”
Jon has overseen a period of change that has cemented relationships with schools, local authorities, other dioceses and the archdiocese as well as steering important initiatives such as the Church School Partnership and the highly successful DBE Services.
In a world where schools can feel like they’re being used as political punch bags Jon has been a voice of reason and sense offering wise guidance to our schools through all the upheaval. He sees his role as representing our diocese to schools and given leadership. He recognises that power is limited but sees his role “as working with schools and bringing back things to schools that wouldn’t necessarily be picked up if we didn’t have this type of role.”
Jon recognises the landscape has changed greatly in the last 15 years. Some of it is positive, Jon says “since Dearing, a lot of schools have developed clearly as places that make a huge contribution to the mission of the diocese” but also adds that it is clear “educational standards have increased”.
But he also reflects worries about how devastating the SATs tests have been on pupils in our schools - as Jon says “I am very suspicious of Government agendas that don’t necessarily deliver what they set out to do and put huge stress on colleagues who work in schools and do a tremendous job for the benefit of pupils.”
He sees plenty of challenges facing the education sector “we live in times of great change and sometimes the changes you think are going to happen don’t”. He believes that the drive to academies will change the nature and role of local authorities with huge cutbacks and some no longer working in the same way which means the diocese will need to take on new roles “no diocese can afford to sit back and say this is nothing to do with us” he says.
Talk to Jon and his passion for Christian education is clear. It is not just about educational standards, and he is committed to achieving the highest possible standards. “we have outstanding schools in so many ways but to be a good church school is not about teaching RE well and doing good collective worship.” He contends that what matters is the “whole way it operates showing its Christian values, principles and ethos running through every part of the school. Most pupils in our church schools come from non-church families so for a good many the church school is the only experience they have of church. This makes it a mission field for the church.”
As Jon sails off to retirement he knows he will miss his colleagues in our diocese, among our partners and in our schools. He has this piece of advice to his successor, Richard Peers, who joins us in September. “listen to what the schools are saying, the people who know best how to deliver a good education are the people in schools.”
Wise advice from our unflappable Jon.
We wish him and his family all the best for his retirement.
Bishop Richard the Bishop of Warrington said
It is with great sadness and much gratitude that we say goodbye to Jon. He has been an inspirational Director and has brought much wisdom, perception and dedication to the role. As Chair of the Board of Education I have valued the support and direction he has given the board, staff and governors of our church schools.
In a highly politicised and changing environment Jon has steered us through some difficult waters with great wisdom to enable us to recognise the need to adapt to changing circumstances. He has helped us to transform the Board and the way we work. Above all, he has established our Church Schools at the forefront of our missionary work in this Diocese by paying particular attention to their distinctive Christian ethos and developing our innovative Church and School Partnership Awards.
Jon has enabled us to remain focussed on producing high quality primary and secondary schools that are both beacons of excellence in educational standards and places where God’s love, Christian values and God’s mission can readily be seen.
We pray for him and his family as he starts his well-deserved retirement.