Examples of good practice

How well does the school, through its distinctive Christian character, meet the needs of all learners?

We held Refugee Week in school. It was a chance to give pupils new experiences - the confusion of facing a whole lesson in a foreign language. They made temporary shelters and then they experienced them being destroyed. It helped the children to understand what it might be like to come from a foreign country and why they should be welcoming (and some of their classmates came from refugee communities in any case).

At our school there is an Eid celebration every year. At Christmas children have brought in party food. For Eid, it's different because all the food is brought in for the afternoon and prepared by parents. Last Christmas, the question was raised, "Are parents able to come in for the Christmas party? Parents get invited to the Eid party. What about the Christmas party?" I had to say "I'm sorry I didn't realise that."

It's the little things that can prove important - they're often the things that aren't on the radar for you. We had a parental complaint. When it was the Christmas parties, the children had to bring their party clothes and change into them at school. Then a parent pointed out "when it's Eid they (sic - i.e. Muslim children) come in their clothes for the Eid party. How come?"

The challenge for the inner urban area church school, is it a culture based challenge or a faith based challenge? At our school we're into third generation Pakistani families - they are British through and through. Families cross cultures. And when it comes to faith they are not even from the same mosque - so by its nature it's diverse in faith, it's diverse in the culture within faith.

A parent in reception was concerned about a dragon on a sweat shirt in the child's first week. I talked it round and the child ended up wearing the sweat shirt. In dealing with divisive issues, there are often other ways in which cultural diversity can be recognised.

Parents with different faiths began to respect each others' religions. We did a lot of stuff celebrating different cultures. When we did healthy foods we did foods from round the world. Or we'd do mendhi patterns. This sort of approach became second nature in school.

Often there's a public link with the church in schools - some with altars in school, some with regular visits to the church. Our school wasn't like that but the Christian ethos permeated all of it. It wasn't just about RE.

Everyone has the ability to model for the children what they expect to be doing. It is promoted by everyone in the school. That's important for all the children in the school whatever their religion.

A liberal view of what worship is doesn't demean from its importance and significance but puts the child at the heart to explore it.

It's obvious but it still needs saying. Cultural diversity is an asset in the school not a problem. We have these different communities and we're able to share them. We come from a richer soil.

What is the impact of collective worship on the learner?

We've taken our children into church - Muslims as well - but we don't do it every week - if we did there might be a problem. If you keep it to once or twice a year at particular times like just before Christmas then that time is acceptable to Muslims because they're coming to celebrate or have a service with Christians, the same as when we have an Eid celebration at school the Christian children join in and the Christian parents come. We don't have that at the mosque - we have it at school but it's to do with joining in each other's important dates.

Collective Worship at its best is simple and engaging. Some pictures on the screen with music and a poem can be really powerful. Simplicity moves children. We need to move away from words, and have the confidence to make time for reflection. Time gets filled with words rather than action. It's the only time we do something for children with no targets and it's crucial.

Everyone had a part in the nativity play. It made no difference as to background as to who had what part. All were singing - children and parents - and some were Christian choruses. This is to do with community with all coming together. It was a telling moment. The parents had real trust in the headteacher.

There's not once size fits all. In one school, Muslim pupils attend RE and Collective Worship but won't come to the church service at Easter. The 'deal' is that the imam comes to the school and pupils remember that this is an important time for Christians. It's a practice that works for that school.

Pupils who are withdrawn from Collective Worship were able to stay in assembly unless they were doing anything overtly religious. It can be easier for them if they are part of a group with a shared sense of security.

In Shrek, Fiona tells Shrek to take off his helmet. 'How do you think he felt?' was the trailing unanswered question. 'You can feel the silence' teachers said afterwards. But it took a lot of setting up. They'd moved 600 kids into the hall just for five minutes - but it was a triumph.

The shortest act of Collective Worship (at secondary level) - "I'd like you to remember the Inuit. They look after the elderly, they look after the young and they care for the planet. Just remember that." And they did!

It's easy to make presumptions about the way different faith communities respond to issues in Collective Worship. It was the Christians at my school who didn't like the use of candles.

A child came up to me after I had led Collective Worship. "Mister, I didn't say that prayer - it's not my religion." It's a positive sign, not a threat, if the child has this confidence.

At issue is the impact or outcome. It's not provision or content. If we believe this then we can promote short acts of Collective Worship.

We use open prayers to God rather than to Jesus so that all can share and join in. This is supported by the governors.

It's the story I tell in my way to those people. If we're not engaged, no-one else will be either.

We use language which avoids presuming commonality in faith - e.g. 'Christians believe' rather than 'we believe'.

How effective is the Religious Education?

We've done a lot through RE and it's had a big place in the curriculum. Because of our local context and pupils, we've done more on Islam than in the locally agreed syllabus. We've tried to make it as practical as possible. So we visit a synagogue. We visit a Hindu temple, a mosque, we go to church. And we meet people who are part of those congregations so we can talk together about their faith. We use a lot of artefacts so the children can play with them and touch them. When we did visual literacy we'd do journeys all done with cones and cardboard round the hall. So we did pilgrimage around the hall with children from all communities dressed up in bed sheets and whatever. The practice generated quite a lot of conversation along the lines of 'why are we going round here seven times then?' A Muslim was able to answer the questions for the children.

If you take these values and these things about being fully human and spirituality we can have an impact into those using stories or poems from other faith communities so we actually tap into all the faith communities that are represented in our school. Picking something that's of human worth and value and allowing children to say, 'yes, I identify with that'. It should be a secure place to engage with one another's faith.

The Christian child can find his faith affirmed in the multi-faith context. One child moved from such a school to one that was largely mono-cultural. "What do you mean", he asked, "you don't have a faith?"

In one class, two Muslim boys actually demonstrated before the other children how they perform prayer. It was something they'd never done in school before and the other children had never seen. It was such a boost to their sense of self-worth.

Throughout PHSE and RE was building values - understanding, tolerance, kindness, modelled with parents and children.

We've used buddy opportunities during Lent and Ramadan so that children can learn from each other across faiths.

We organised a visit to the mosque for all our staff.

Local pilgrims returning from Mecca (Muslim) and the Holy Land (Christian) have visited the school to share their experiences.

If you have encountered examples of good practice please email the Revd Andrew Wickens, Dudley Education Chaplain, on awickens@cofe-worcester.org.uk