Chapter 4: Built upon the Christian Faith
All our schools will be built upon the Christian Faith. But what do we mean by this?
The foundational principle of Christianity asserts, simply, that ‘God is.’ The triune God, revealed in His creation, the Bible, and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. He is, then, the source of all truth, beauty, and goodness that we know, see and experience in our world, and all wisdom ultimately comes from Him. Based on this assertion, our schools will cohere around the following four core convictions.
1. Human Dignity
Every child is a person made in God’s image and that means our schools will recognise each child’s inherent dignity, value and worth. Each child is unique and equal in significance to any other person, so they will be respected and not treated as inferior. Our goal will be to serve each child, regardless of background or ability, by creating the right conditions for their healthy development into adulthood.
2. Intellectual Formation
God’s world is a rich tapestry and it is a tragedy when children emerge from education devoid of intellectual interests. So our schools will seek to cultivate the child’s innate curiosity with a rich diet of ideas around the key areas: the knowledge of God; the knowledge of man (history, culture, languages, etc.) and the knowledge of the natural world (science).
3. Character Formation
If feeding the mind is the first educational objective, training the will is the second. Christianity understands the brokenness of human nature and so the need for discipline. People with good habits find the basic routines of life less burdensome because they have learned the art of self-management. Our schools will emphasise, for example, good study habits, concentration skills, and personal qualities like truthfulness, self-discipline and service of others. Christians also recognise, however, that perfect character is not something we can achieve, we know we need a Saviour who brings forgiveness. But in acknowledging this, we are also recognising the source of the forgiveness and grace that we want children to embody as a vital part of healthy character.
4. Spiritual Formation:
4.1 Humanity was created by God to be in relationship with Him and our schools will seek to help the children understand what this means, and how it is possible. This will be achieved through:
4.1.1 Regular school assemblies. Children will be expected to participate in corporate singing. In these assemblies, the Bible will be expounded and children will get to know its main stories and themes, in particular the claims of Jesus Christ. They will be exposed to the core beliefs of Christianity. The school chaplain at FBS has condensed this to seven core beliefs:
(a) #1 – The Bible is the Word of God
(b) #2 – God is Trinity
(c) #3 - God created the world
(d) #4 – Human beings have turned against God
(e) #5 – Jesus lived, died and rose again to save people
(f) #6 – Jesus will come back to judge and bring in the new creation
(g) #7 – Christians have a mission
4.1.2 Open discussion and debate, considering other religions, ideas or values, from a Christian perspective. One of the unique aspects of Christianity is that it welcomes intellectual challenge; understanding that truth does not fear debate. This will be done through RE lessons.
4.1.3 Christian Union. At FBS there are 9 Christian Unions. Some are called ‘Just Looking’ where young people can find out more and debate and question. Others are called ‘Diggin Deeper’ where they can learn more about what the Bible says. Boys from all religions as well as atheists attend the ‘Just Looking’ Christian Unions. They are a hotbed of debate and discussion. Our aim would be to establish these in all our schools.
4.1.4 An emphasis on the importance of service to others and finding practical ways to express this in school life.
4.2 As well as stating what we mean by schools built upon the Christian Faith, it is important to state what it does not mean. It does not mean:
4.2.1 Exclusion: No one will be excluded on grounds of faith; all our schools will be open to all. We are seeking to provide a service to the whole community because we believe all children will benefit from what we offer, whatever their religious convictions. Parents will, however, need to accept the Christian ethos as defined here.
4.2.2 Coercion: Due to our respect for human dignity, the approach at all our schools will never be ‘heavy-handed’. No child will be pressured to adopt the Christian faith. We believe children need to be given space to evaluate and appropriate life’s biggest ideas at their own pace.
4.3 In line with our Christian ethos, huge emphasis is placed on safeguarding and pastoral care at FBS and will be in all our schools. When Ofsted visited FBS, they commented, “There is agreement from pupils, parents and staff that the culture of safeguarding threads through all aspects of the school.” While the Head of Safeguarding at the Local Authority said:
“If there was ever a school whose ethos was embedded with students being happy, safe and well, The Fulham Boys School was a shining light in this element…if any colleagues from other schools ever wanted to see what a happy and safe school looked like, The Fulham Boys School would be first on my list of schools to send them to look at.”
4.4 Pupils are in school houses with a head of house and a form teacher looking after them. Form groups are vertical so that pupils interact with pupils of different ages; older pupils looking after younger ones (and keeping them in check!)
4.5 Staff wellbeing is also important. Staff should be happy, feel valued, listened to, looked after and treated well. At FBS (and again something we think is important in all our schools) a wellbeing group meet every half term. This is led by the school chaplain and is made up of a cross-section of staff. They feedback on what is going well and where the stress points are.
5. Think and Question
5.1 We encourage our pupils to think and question; that they are unafraid of being outspoken and are free to go against the crowd; to change society not simply be seduced by it. To have the courage of their convictions but at the same time to be kind and caring. The test of a tolerant society is surely one that means we can hold opposite views, say when we think others are wrong, be so convinced in what we believe that we can try to convince others to believe the same - but all the time respecting one another, being good neighbours, even good friends.
5.2 On the front page of The Times on Thursday 1st February 2018, Ofsted chief, Amanda Spielman, was quoted as saying that extremists are using schools to, “actively pervert the purpose of education; peddling their religious ideologies to narrow children’s horizons and cut them off from wider society. Parents and community leaders have opened schools, and used them as vehicles to indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology.” Rightly, Ms Spielman was determined to tackle such people who actively undermine British values and she went on to say she was going to ‘face them down’. She called on school leaders to use ‘muscular liberalism’ to defend decisions they make, rather than fear causing offence.
5.3 I’m sure many would have read that article and thought ‘hear, hear’. I for one heartily agree that extremists who narrow children’s horizons, pervert education and peddle religious ideologies should be tackled and ‘faced down’. But I also have absolutely no time for ‘muscular liberalism’. It is a liberalism that is not liberal at all, but rather a perverted liberalism which forces people to think ‘liberally’. That is as educationally unsound as the worst extremist. This ‘muscular liberalism’ appears to be holding the megaphone on social media today. Far from encouraging young people to question and think about the world around us, how society is framed, the laws we pass and values we live by, ‘muscular liberalism’ dictates how we think.
5.4 On insisting on their own rights and freedoms, ‘Muscular liberals’ deny others theirs. Their liberalism prescribes that some things can no longer even be debated and discussed. People who hold views that are not liberal are labelled as dangerous extremists. But isn’t that wrong? I detest extremist ideology that makes young people adopt a view without question, to hate rather than consider, and leads them into violence, terrorism and murder. I think it should be ‘faced down’. But I also hate ‘muscular liberalism’ which tells us how we should think and live our lives. That too should be ‘faced down’, and it always will be in all schools that become part of our Trust.
5.5 We want our young men and women to question everything: Where we have come from, origins of the universe, abortion, euthanasia, views on sex, marriage, relationships; to have the right to be a boy or girl and be called one; to say that men and women are equal but different.
5.6 Muscular liberalism is neither liberal nor muscular. It pushes its agenda and forces us to all think the same. It is a bully, and like all bullies needs to be ‘faced down’.
5.7 As Ms Spielman pointed out in the same article (quoting Psalm 119), our duty as leaders is to ‘teach knowledge and good judgement’. Therefore, we should present young people with evidence; but all of it, not some of it, and none of it coloured by bias and prejudice. As Winston Churchill said, “True genius resides in the capacity for the evaluation of uncertain, hazardous and conflicting information.” We want to walk into science labs in all our schools and find pupils (and teachers) who question, challenge, explore, analyse and consider critically absolutely everything. Not just accept things because everyone else does. Including being anti-creation and pro evolution.
5.8 All of this means how we teach is as important as what we teach. In every subject the Christian views are presented alongside other world views and theories. We expose our boys to what Christians believe and encourage them to evaluate it, weigh it up. We do not force them to believe it. We have created a transparent environment that encourages thinking, questioning and scrutiny. We believe this is how to educate a mind. And certainly preferable to having society’s views and biases ‘taught’ unquestioningly, particularly if certain arguments and views are not even allowed to be put on the table.
5.9 All backgrounds and all faiths are welcomed, loved and respected at our schools. According to our Community Focus Group, “Muslim families are aware that FBS is firmly built upon the Christian faith but feel that everyone is welcome.” While Ofsted observed, “Christian values of the school are clear while at the same time everyone is welcome and included.”
5.10 The environment we have created encourages thinking, questioning and scrutiny, and is transparent with nothing to hide. Ofsted and the Department for Education are always welcome and can speak to whoever they would like, look at whatever they need, whenever they want. If what we are teaching children cannot be ‘inspected’ then we should not be teaching it. Jesus Christ taught openly (Mark 14.48, 49) and far from brainwashing people and forcing them to believe certain things, he asked over 150 questions in the New Testament, always encouraging people to question and think. He had nothing to hide and urged his followers not to teach secretly but openly. Ofsted commented, “Debate and discussion are encouraged which the pupils told inspectors they value very much.”
5.11 For us, this is what education is about. We get excited at the thought of our sixth forms becoming hot beds of discussion and debate; where young people thrash out big issues, disagree strongly, shake hands and laugh together later, while at the same time shape the thinking and attitude of our nation.