November 27, 2009
One of the things we have to get used to in England is the tedious mantra that so-called ‘faith schools’ are ‘divisive’. The charge is always put, but the evidence is never there to back up the (apparently) self-evident claim. It seems that the conclusion is assumed on the basis of prejudice and then the evidence adduced from the odd anecdote. Well, new research published today – Strong schools for strong communities: Reviewing the impact of Church of England schools in promoting community cohesion – might just force a bit of a re-think. (Dream on…)
The study by Professor David Jesson of the University of York (commissioned by the Church of England) examined the reports of 400 secondary schools inspected between March and June 2009 and 700 primary schools inspected in June this year. According to the press notice:
The data for primary schools, serving relatively small cohorts of pupils, suggested faith schools perform just as well as community schools based on the average grade received for promoting community cohesion. Grades are awarded on a scale of 1 (outstanding) to 4 (inadequate), with both types of school averaging 2.2 at primary level. However, the data for secondary schools indicates “clear evidence that Faith schools were awarded substantially higher inspection gradings for promoting community cohesion than Community schools,” according to Professor Jesson. The data shows that the mean average of grades given to secondary schools with a religious foundation is 1.86, compared to 2.31 for community schools.
In his research paper, Professor Jesson comments:
This finding is particularly relevant to the debate about schools’ contribution to community cohesion – and runs completely counter to those who have argued that because faith schools have a distinctive culture reflecting their faith orientation and are responsible for their admissions that they are ‘divisive’ and so contribute to greater segregation amongst their communities. This is clearly not supported by this most recent Ofsted inspection evidence.
In reaching their judgements on a school’s performance in promoting community cohesion, Ofsted’s inspectors look for evidence that schools have undertaken an analysis of their school population and locality and then created an action plan focused on engaging with under-represented groups outside the school and between different groups within the school itself.
Ofsted also looks for evidence that schools have strategies for promoting participation by learners in all the opportunities that the school provides and strategies for tackling any discriminatory behaviour between groups of learners. Comparing the data on grades awarded for this part of the inspection between different types of secondary school, Professor Jesson writes:
Here again the contrast between Faith schools and Community schools is clear. Faith schools achieve higher gradings on this aspect of their contribution to their pupils and their community.” Community schools received a mean average of 2.03, while schools with a religious foundation received a higher average of 1.68.
But, the response by Jan Ainsworth, Chief Education Officer for the Church of England, in her introduction to the report makes the point usually ignored by commentators:
Schools with a religious foundation have a particular role in modelling how faith and belief can be explored and expressed in ways that bring communities together rather than driving them apart. They can minimise the risks of isolating communities for whom religious belief and practice are core parts of their identity and behaviour. In Church of England schools that means taking all faith seriously and placing a high premium on dialogue, seeking the common ground as well as understanding and respecting difference.
Schools contribute most actively towards nurturing a shared sense of belonging across communities when they are clear about their own distinctive values and how that grounds their engagement with other groups at local, national and global levels. Promoting community cohesion is not about diluting what we believe to create a pallid mush of ‘niceness’.
Our Christian foundation places the strongest obligation onto Church of England schools to help children form relationships of mutual care and affection with people from every creed and background. For church schools, community cohesion is more than ticking a box for the government. It is about acting out the values articulated in the school’s mission statement in ways that serve and strengthen our human relationship with our neighbours.
Not surprisingly, this won’t be good news for some people, as evidence will be seen to have intruded into prejudice.There is more to be said about this latter point and an excellent article in the Church Times by a Croydon headteacher, Richard Parrish, makes a case for distinguishing between ‘faith’ schools and ‘church’ schools. I’ll come back to this one anon.
November 24, 2009
Posted by nickbaines under music
| Tags: Leonard Cohen
|  Comments
I am heading towards study leave starting in a few days time. First time ever and I can’t wait to get my head and heart refreshed in some space. So, on my way into meetings in London today I picked up the book of Leonard Cohen poetry I started ages ago – Book of Longing (Penguin, 2007) – and thought I’d dip into it. I think my attention span is reducing by the day at the moment.
Then I came across his poem Thing. It starts like this:
I am this thing that needs to sing / I love to sing…
It concludes as follows:
I am this thing
that wants to sing
when I am up against the spit
and scorn of judges
O G-D I want to sing
THIS THING THAT NEEDS TO SING
What is it about human beings that makes us want to sing? I remember Jim Wallis saying that when he and his colleagues were arrested in Washington DC they used to annoy the police officers who jailed them by singing all night. he said that you just can’t stop Christians singing. He is right (and not just about Christians).
One of the fallacies I grew up with in church was that God wanted to hear our praises at all times – even when everything is rubbish, we must praise God. When I grew up two things bugged me:
(a) I began to wonder what sort of God it was who urges his friends to lie through their teeth about what is going on in their lives and in their head. So, the worship leader would urge us to ‘leave the business of the day/week at the door of the church and bring our worship unencumbered by all the worries and troubles of life’… and I would think that was stupid.
(b) I read the Psalms and found expressions of regret, complaint, lament, shouting at God, questioning, whingeing, praising, asking, and just about everything else that goes into real life in the real world with real people in real relationships. Psalm 137 (‘By the rivers of Babylon’) wasn’t exactly a load of laughs.
Again, it is the poets and artists who put their finger on the truth. Human beings are made to be honest with God and each other – singing different songs at different times of life and not worrying about whether God can cope with our complicated emotions.
Tonight I feel like repeating Cohen’s lines. I’m just not entirely sure which song I want to sing.
November 21, 2009
The Archbishop of Canterbury is in Rome and will meet the Pope today for a private meeting. The impression given in some media is that this visit is a response to the Pope’s establishment of a Personal Ordinariate for Anglicans who want to join the Roman Catholic Church. But two things need to be said about this: (a) the visit was scheduled many, many months ago, so has been coloured by recent events, but not determined by them; (b) according to a RC bishop with whom I spoke recently, they do not want ‘disaffected’ Anglicans who would prefer to remain Anglican really, but only those who positively want to join the RC Church – in other words, those with positive and not negative motivation.
Now, that will be an interesting one for the RC authorities to work out when they engage in the discernment process in each individual case.
However, I was asked to do an interview with John Humphreys on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme this morning and the thrust of the question put to me was about ‘leadership’. Has Rowan Williams’ authority been undermined by the Pope’s offer and is his leadership (particularly in comparison with that of Pope Benedict) too equivocal to be effective?
My response was simple: leadership is not about shouting loudly what people want to hear… now. yet that is what many people think it is. If they don’t hear Rowan saying what they want to hear him saying, then he isn’t leading. What Rowan is doing is taking the long-term view. Well, what about the lack of ‘robustness’ in his leadership? I wasn’t being facetious when I noted that Jesus wasn’t being exactly ‘robust’ when he allowed himself to be nailed to a cross.
Isn’t it more ‘robust’ (and doesn’t it take more nerve) to resist the clamour for statements, simple clarity (where it may not exist) or irrevocable decisions before the time is right to give them? It could be argued that to stick to your course in the face of competing demands for statements shows not leadership but weak (and short-term) populism.
So, you may not agree with Rowan, but you have to give him some credit for not being pushed into a corner by the strident voices of competing factions or the comment-hungry media. His conversation with Benedict should be just that: a conversation with Benedict. Why can’t we learn to respect context, relationship and confidence and then see where the two leaders go from here?
The contrast with Benedict is an interesting one, however. It is illuminating to listen to Roman Catholics who are alarmed at the way the Pope has pushed this Apostolic Constitution through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and by-passed the appropriate body, the Pontifical Council for Ecumenical Dialogue. If this ‘leadership’ undermined the Archbishop of Canterbury, then what does it say about the leadership of the Archbishop of Westminster who was given the same notice of the Constitution as was Rowan? And does it undermine both Vatican process and the authority of the Roman Catholic bishops of England, given that they also had no notice of what was proposed than their Anglican counterparts?
It is often said that Rowan could sometimes be clearer in what he does say – given that even academic lectures will still get reported in popular media – but intellectual laziness should not excuse us from working at what he does say in order to get to the heart of how this holy man sees God, the world and us.
This morning the Times asks Rowan to by-pass the tanks parked on the lawn at Lambeth Palace and speak truth to the heart of Rome. The challenges he posed to Rome in his lecture yesterday are serious (and not simple) ones – as recognised by Cardinal Kasper and Bishop Brian Farrell. It will be interesting to see if and how Rome responds.
November 20, 2009
The Telegraph’s George Pitcher has written a typically hilarious response to the latest atheist poster campaign and the Times’ Ruth Gledhill has just pointed out that the children pictured on the poster belong to Pentecostal parents.
It’s just funny – that’s all.
November 19, 2009
Posted by nickbaines under politics
| Tags: Belgium
|  Comments
So, the Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy has been appointed as the first ever President of the European Union. If he didn’t have a funny and memorable name, most people would never have heard of him. In the last few days he has been tipped for the top job by some commentators, but dismissed as a ‘nobody’ by others. How, they asked, can the EU be led by someone nobody had ever heard of? And… from Belgium?!
Well, this raises an interesting question. Do we want a European President who has star quality or one who can do the job?
Running Belgium must make running some other countries look like a kiddies tea party. Belgium is small, complicated, has diverse communities with differing histories and traditions, has two official languages – and a reputation for being boring (the country you go through to get to somewhere else… but stay there and you’ll change your mind).
Yet, if you can hold that lot together and make a good fist out of it without raising the hackles of every other country, maybe you’re the best hope for bringing the squabbling children of Europe together more effectively. This might just turn out to be a stroke of genius – appointing a bloke who doesn’t seem to worry about his ‘legacy’, but will just get on with the job in his usual quiet way.
I hadn’t heard of Baroness Ashton either – and she’s got the Foreign Policy brief. Who had bets on that one?
November 18, 2009
Two stories grab the eye today: (a) the rejection by the BBC Trust of a series of complaints about the lack of non-religious contributors to the Radio 4 Today programme’s Thought for the Day and (b) the launch of the new atheist poster campaign.
The BBC Trust said of the former that only allowing religious contributors on the slot did not breach editorial guidelines on impartiality. It did, however, state that the slot must comply with requirements of “due impartiality” and that any future complaints on broadcasts during the slot would be judged on a “case-by-case basis”. This follows 11 complaints about TFTD and a single complaint about BBC editorial policy on non-religious programming. The Trust added that it was a matter for the BBC executive board as to whether the remit of Thought for the Day should remain the same or be changed in the future.
It was the response by Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, that was odd. He said the NSS was “very disappointed” by the decision and would continue to campaign to “open it up” to other groups – understandable and fair enough. But then he stated:
Every edition of Thought for the Day is a rebuke to those many people in our society who do not have religious beliefs. It says to them that their ‘thoughts’ are not worth hearing and that somehow religious opinions are more worthy of a special, unchallengeable platform. This is so blatant an abuse of religious privilege that we cannot simply let it pass. We will be looking at other ways of challenging this unjustifiable slot.
Er… so is it the ‘slot’ that is unjustifiable or its unique character? Make up your mind.
I can think of several reasons for some people not liking TFTD, but to see this ruling as a ‘rebuke’ and to speak of ‘abuse’ is just weird. The NSS will continue to huff and puff, but their case might hold more weight if it were presented in a more rational way.
You can’t accuse Ariane Sherine & co of poor presentation. Their new poster campaign continues where the imaginative ‘atheist bus’ adverts left off. The bus campaign was wonderful in that it kept people talking about the probability of God and was at least a funny, clever and engaging way to have a go at religious advertising. The new campaign poster looks like this:
It looks nice and simple, doesn’t it? It sounds perfectly reasonable, too. “Let’s not indoctrinate our children into any particular worldview, but let’s let them grow up to make up their own mind.”
Er… how? On what basis? With what information and experience? Even the statement is based on the assumption that the tabula rasa assumption about the human mind and character is universally and self-evidently ‘true’. Now, that is weird.
If the poster was asking us to bring up our children to be able to think intelligently about human meaning, experience, morality, etc., then I am all for it. But to suggest that you can bring children up with no philosophical input, no pointers, no assumptions about reality, no priorities, no account for the values, beliefs and experiences of their parents and others is just irrational.
Or, to repeat the obvious: to not tell a child that there is a God is not to leave that child philosophically neutral, but to positively indoctinate the child into the assumption that there is no God. Why is that more rational or less bad?
Anyway, I welcome this new poster campaign and hope it will get people talking in the same way as the bus poster. Whatever conclusions we come to.
November 16, 2009
I came across a disturbing press notice on the EKD (German Protestant Church) website in the wake of the election of Bishop Margot Käßmann as Chair of the Council of the EKD last month.
It would appear that the Russian Orthodox Church has expressed an intention to cut off ecumenical contact with the EKD because of Käßmann’s election. Apparently, ‘representatives of the Foreign Office of the Russian Orthodox Church had announced that relations with the EKD would be terminated… Archbishop Hilarion said that celebrations planned for the end of November to mark 50 years of dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the EKD would also mark the end of the conversations.’ Archbishop Hilarion was quoted as such in the Kommersant newspaper.
It appears that the fundamental reason for this move is that the Orthodox Church does not allow that a woman can be a bishop. Fair enough – and no surprises so far.
But the conversations between the two churches have been going on for years and the EKD has had female bishops for years. All that happened on 28 October was that Margot Käßmann was elected ‘Chair of the Council’. That isn’t a change of orders – that happened a long time ago.
So, it is not only the EKD that is expressing confusion about this. If ‘female bishops’ was the problem, the Orthodox would presumably have suspended their relationship with the EKD many years ago. But they didn’t.
So, what is this about?
November 15, 2009
The sheer bizarre awfulness of the Telegraph‘s Blogs Editor, Damian Thompson, has been a constant mystery to me since I first came across him. Well, actually, I had never even heard of him until I wasted an afternoon writing a diary piece for the Daily Telegraph during the 2008 Lambeth Conference. Within minutes of it going online, Thompson had posted a nasty little piece with a deliberately misleading photograph.
Ever since then I have followed his stuff on Twitter with incredulity at the frequent nastiness and perversity of his views. Does he have any friends anywhere? Does he have contempt for everyone other than himself?
So, I find myself in a difficult position today. He has posted a clear piece about the decision of the General Synod Revision Committee on Women Bishops and what he has written makes sense. I suspect that he and I come at the matter from different perspectives, but I guess we would agree that some opposing positions cannot be resolved by compromise and that we just have to face reality – however painful that might be. (And although I agree with his logic, I don’t agree with his silly headline: ‘The Church of England washes its hands of traditional Anglo-Catholics’.)
The issue about women bishops is tortuous. If you don’t believe a woman can be a bishop, then you cannot accept any authority delegated by a woman bishop to a male bishop: the authority still derives from the female bishop. On the other hand, however, you cannot divide up a diocesan bishop into ‘bits’ of authority, some of which can be ignored by those who don’t like the gender of the bishop concerned. If a bishop is a bishop, then he/she must be the bishop with all that means. To do otherwise is to negate any concept of catholicity anyway.
These positions have always been irreconcilable and it is only the desire to keep as many people together as possible that makes the attempt at compromise worthwhile. And that search is worthwhile. Thompson is right, however, to point out that Anglicans who want to go to Rome whilst keeping the flexibility and freedom to dissent and negotiate, etc. that they have in the Church of England might not be welcome in Rome after all. He put it more eloquently, quoting Jonathan Wynne-Jones quoting Fr David Houlding:
“This is a great piece of wickedness. The committee knew what was needed and have refused to provide something that will hold the Church together. This forces people out of the Church who otherwise would have stayed. We didn’t want to go to Rome, but now have been left with no choice.”
On the whole I’m thrilled by the prospect of Anglo-Catholics seeking comunion with the Holy See – but with that sort of stroppy attitude? Houlding is wrong on two counts. It is not “wicked” for a self-governing Church to say to its members: this is the decision of our bishops and democratically elected representatives, and if you wish to stay then you must accept it. Nor do people with Houlding’s views necessarily have the option to become Roman Catholics. The Holy See is not interested in receiving into full communion Christians who would prefer to be in another denomination. In fact, I suspect it will refuse to do so, and much as I expect the Ordinariate to flourish, I hope it does.
Many of those who approve of women bishops have a great concern to keep as many traditionalist Anglicans in the Church as possible. But it might be seen in the future to have been a mercy that the issue has now been forced, that reality has to be faced and that the time for clarity – however painful for everyone in the church – has come.
It is still possible that some workable compromise might be found, but it isn’t looking likely. Which means that we need to pray for and offer support to those who now find themselves in a ‘crisis’ (in the proper sense of the word) – that is, a time to decide and then commit themsleves to the consequences of that decision.
November 14, 2009
One of the saddest stories of last week was the suicide of the Hannover and Germany goalkeeper, Robert Enke. It appears that after months of depression he threw himself under a train and put an end to his pain. The death of his two year old daughter three years ago caused him and his wife enormous grief, but people thought he had ‘got over it’. It appears that he was now afraid that his foster daughter would be taken away from him if his depression became public.
The German media reaction to Enke’s suicide has been very interesting, respectful and mature. Enke’s remarkable widow spoke about her loss and her husband’s fear of his depression becoming publicly known. His doctor, referring to the suicide note left behind, observed that Enke had resolved to end his life and had to keep his intention secret if he was to actually do the deed. Representatives of the German football association spoke about the problem of admitting ‘weakness’ in a sports world in which success and winning are everything. Oliver Bierhoff, the German national team manager, wept.
Depression is one thing; fear of talking about it is another. The depressed person has enough to cope with; it is the rest of us who create the conditions under which confession of ‘weakness’ is seen as impossible. OK, this might be particularly acute in a sports context, but anyone who has had any experience of depression or pastoral care of people suffering from depression (or their families) will know that depression is widely seen as a form of failure or weakness – especially in a society that worships strength, power, success, beauty and glamour.
Enke suffered in public silence. Wealth, fame, popularity and success were not enough to still the raging storms of his depression. His death is a tragedy at many levels, but it has rightly exposed an issue that demands attention – and not just in Germany.
Tomorrow there will be a huge memorial service in the Hannover Arena to celebrate Enke’s life and mourn his death. It will be a collective outpouring of grief, but it will also enable people to reflect on the nature of depression and the public perception of it. One German friend of mine (who works in media) commented yesterday that “there was nothing like it before in Germany”. It is a bit like the German ‘Diana moment’ – when the veneer of social ‘normality’ is stripped off and the raw humanity that we all hide so well gets brutally exposed.
No doubt the veneer will get coated back on as the days go by. But some vulnerabilities will have been exposed by Enke’s death, his widow’s grief and his national team manager’s tears.
Dr Margot Käßmann, the recently-elected leader of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (who is also the Bishop of Hannover), spoke at a service the day after Enke’s death. She quoted the Liverpool anthem You’ll never walk alone and then tackled the questions raised head on. But she began her address by quoting from Enke’s widow:
Wir haben gedacht, wir schaffen alles, und mit Liebe geht das. Aber man schafft es doch nicht immer. (We always thought we could manage, that love would get us through. But it doesn’t always work out.)
This is the reality. And it will hit hard those who live in fantasy land – who think that if you just get the ‘formula’ right, everything will work out OK. If we are to live in the real world, then we must listen to the grief as well as the joy, the tears as well as the laughter, the failures as well as the successes. And we must, perhaps, be more rigorous about what we consider to be ‘success’ or ‘failure’ in the first place.
This death will be of ‘interest’ in the UK, but only insofar as a foreign footballer has died young. Grief is always relative. But those of us who deal with depressed people or who love Germany will pause for longer and pray for those whose lives have been so deranged by this particular death.
Robert Enke RIP.
November 13, 2009
I have seen some great theatre in my time.
- King Lear (Shakespeare) at Stratford about fifteen years ago (although after two hours I was wishing Lear would just finish himself off and stop philosophising aloud).
- The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui (Brecht) at the Contact Theatre in Manchester in 1974 when I went with my sixth-form German group and our Assistentin – who was left in tears. The play (about the rise of Hitler) ended with the stage blacked out between two huge Nazi flags and photos of brutality and the concentration camps projected onto a small screen – followed by the actor who played Ui/Hitler telling the audience (words to the effect that) Hitler may be dead, but his bastard offspring are not. No one could speak as we left the theatre at Manchester University.
- Mamma Mia (!) – just to be the only bloke in an audience of 20-something women laughing and singing our way through the ridiculous plot and wonderfully banal Abba songs.
But last night beat the lot. I had seen the National Theatre‘s publicity for Michael Morpurgo‘s play – set in the context of the First World War – when it was on at the National Theatre on London’s South Bank, but I never had the opportunity to go. Last night, after dinner with some good friends, we put that right.
Morpurgo wrote the story for children, seeing the war through the eyes of horses who don’t choose which side they are on. The synopsis of the play tells the following story:
At the outbreak of World War One, Joey, young Albert’s beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. He’s soon caught up in enemy fire and fate takes him on an extraordinary odyssey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone and in no man’s land. But Albert cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home.
It sounds almost silly. But it is the most engaging, emotionally powerful and arresting production I have ever seen in a lifetime of theatre-going.
The whole theatre is used – with actors standing among, coming out of and running though/into the audience – drawing us into the action rather than leaving us as spectators of someone else’s drama. The sound and light are superb and the projection of ‘scrap book’ images above the stage is powerfully evocative. The horses are operated by teams of puppeteers, but you soon see them as real. They are astonishingly life-like in their movement and behaviour – and it is hard to imagine what research, engineering and work went in to making them work so effectively. The acting was superb and when the explosion that closed the first half ripped through the auditorium, I was sitting on the edge of my seat, body tense and emotions shredded.
Anyone who has read the First World War poets such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke will come to this play already sensitised to the horror and humanity-wrenching futility of war. But Morpurgo has brought to the familiar narratives a new perspective – seeing the action and cost through the experience of an animal rather than a partisan human being.
Until last night I had no idea that (according to the programme notes) in the 10% of France invaded and devastated by 1918 (from pre-War figures) the number of cattle and draft oxen had reduced from 892,000 to just 58,000; horses and mules from 407,000 to 32,000; sheep and goats from 949,000 to 25,000; and pigs from 356,000 to 25,000. In the same area 293,039 houses were destroyed, 435,961 houses seriously damaged, 436 million cubic yards of trenches and shell holes had to be filled, 448 million yards of barbed wire removed, and so on.
One million horses were taken to France from Britain. Only 62,000 returned.
If the opportunity arises to see this production (currently at the New London Theatre in Drury Lane), don’t miss it. It is stunning at every level.
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