By Rich Pringle, Programmes Coordinator, Schools, 3FF
On Thursday 13 October, having joined 3FF less than 3 weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Inaugural Faith School Linking Launch at the Palace of Westminster. I joined 3FF because I was captivated by the incredible work they did and believed that it was having a real impact. One such programme that captivated me was Faith Schools Linking.
By providing meaningful encounters for both students and staff, linking increases recognition and respect for different beliefs and cultures. In addition to 3 link days, 3FF run 3 CPD days for teachers to train and equip them for the programme. For teachers who have previously run Faith School Linking there is now also a new Alumni CPD strand. This is where teachers can build upon their experiences, and develop new, exciting and creative ways to deliver faith school linking, as well as explore how their own leadership qualities can increase the impact of the programme across the school and into the wider community.
The evening was opened my William Wragg MP, followed by a keynote by Lord Bourne, Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Both acknowledged that there is a problem in the UK with a lack of understanding between people of different faiths and beliefs, and work is needed to bring people together in our diverse nation. As the event got started, my eyes scanned the room to see more people arrive to what would now be a standing room only, as all seats were taken. Many who had crowded into this packed room were teachers. Teachers who had undoubtedly had long days in school but still willing to extend that day to be at this launch. I was quite in awe of their commitment. As I heard from teachers throughout the evening it became clear that this commitment and sacrifice was driven by their experience of being on the frontline of ‘the problem’ that had been eluded to earlier, and a strong belief that faith school linking is one of the solutions. One such teacher was Carlos Escobar a secondary school teacher who talked in detail about the transformation he saw in his students following the linking experience.
Following the opening speeches an experienced panel made up of Martha Shaw (Senior Lecturer in Educational Studies, London South Bank University), Jonathan Daniels (Head of the Faith Schools Team, Department for Education), Yasmeen Akhtar (Programmes Manager, 3FF), Carlos Escobar (Secondary Teacher of Religious Studies and Music, Bishop Challoner Federation of Catholic School) discussed the question, ‘How does faith school linking contribute to a stronger society?’.
Yasmeen Akhtar commented that we need to understand that people make up society therefore to build a stronger society “we need to make sure that people are meeting people and understand each other’s complexity”. An audience member commented that ‘‘sustained encounters through Linking go beyond promoting ‘tolerance’ or ‘respect’ to build genuine understanding’’. During the discussion, there was a positive buzz around the room and I felt an excitement build within the room that faith school linking was a glimmer of hope towards building a stronger society.
However, it was clear that there are still a number of barriers to overcome. With rising societal tension and an ever-increasing need for building strong and meaningful relationships across communities, further discussion and support for teachers is needed. Ever increasing workloads and time challenges are an unfortunate common reality now for most teachers. The discussion highlighted the need for recognition from the Department of Education that within the current curriculum there is limited time and space for inter-cultural encounter based experiences. One teacher commented that his students can learn about different religions and beliefs in a classroom setting but deep understanding is only achieved through facilitated encounters. There was a call on the Senior Leadership Team in schools to recognise the need for this work and allocate time and resources to it.
It was clear at the end of the evening as Phil Champain Director of 3FF summarised and formally closed the event, there are still hurdles to overcome but there is clearly an appetite and commitment for change, and in faith school linking, 3FF have a model that clearly works.
Find out more about 3FF’s School Linking programme