Singing the Lord’s song in a strange land

The distinctiveness of church schools was a consistent theme running through our annual Headteachers’ and Incumbents Conference held last week at Hope in Everton.

From keynote speaker Neville Norcross’s address to Paul Davies’ challenge and encouragement to foundation governors the difference that comes from having Christian values was made loud and clear.

Even starting the conference with Eucharist emphasised the distinctiveness of Church schools and Christian values as Bishop Richard presided and preached at a service which re-commissioned headteachers in their task of serving schools, families and the wider community. Childrens’ Choirs from St James CE Haydock and Wargrave CE Newton led part of the worship confidently and sensitively.

The theme challenged church schools to be counter cultural. To sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. A land where Christian teaching is under pressure and church schools are a key place for maintaining the Christian message. He emphasised that the difference is in the Christian values they represent and try to instil. As one of the organisers, Diocesan Adviser and SIAMS Manager  David Thorpe stated “It is about living out the Christian life, taking worship and values seriously. The school, working in partnership with its local church where possible, is the church for that community five days a week and that’s the difference it can make.”

In his inspirational keynote speech, which you can read on this page, Neville Norcross stated that “The economic narrative behind current education policy seems to be ‘go to school, work hard, pass your exams, get a good job, spend lots of money and be happy. The trouble is, it ain’t working!” He stated that “When the government measures your school they do so in black and white but church schools measure in colour. We must see education not in terms of SATs results alone but in terms of human flourishing.” He then gave delegates a model of leadership to aspire to, that of “Hope, Humility and Service“ All based on Jesus’ teaching.

Neville’s challenge around the distinctiveness of church schools was reinforced from a different angle by Paul Davies who identified the role that governors, particularly foundation governors, can play in maintaining that ethos. Outlining the expectations of OFSTED he offered clear ways forward to help schools make the system more manageable.

Summing up the day David said “When I was a Headteacher this conference was useful to keep me focussed on the difference being leader of a church school meant. I relished the opportunity to worship, network and be inspired by others and from the feedback I have heard this was true of this conference. But importantly it reminded me, as I am seeing from so many SIAMs I have read, that it’s the Christian foundations that are vital. Get these right and the stresses and strains of working in today’s educational climate fall into place.”

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Read Neville Norcross' Keynote speech