Spirituality is what is needed in schools

Thursday’s breakfast bit on BBC Radio Humberside

Later today I am having lunch with headteachers of church secondary schools. It is something I do every year and it provides a valuable opportunity to engage with a remarkable group of people who are committed to the flourishing of our children.  I think being a headteacher of either a primary or secondary school must be rated amongst the most demanding and stressful jobs in the land.

Each and every day a headteacher is at the centre of so many expectations and demands – from students, parents, teachers, staff, governors and of course politicians.  It is I believe the latter — the politicians — who make life most difficult for headteachers and indeed for everyone who is involved in education.

Schools and colleges have become an area of great interest to the politicians.  In so many other ways government control and influence over areas of public life has been reduced by the international nature of economics and politics.  Yet education is one area where the government has by and large the opportunity to prove its credentials as being able to change things.  So ministers in the Department for Education, Children, Schools and Families find themselves very much on the front line of government effectiveness.  The consequence of this is that schools are constantly a target for new initiatives aimed at demonstrating how effective the government is in finding remedies for our problems.

As I see it, the real problem is that we don’t really know what we want our schools to achieve.  We live in a very fast changing world – the facts that you gather today, can very quickly become redundant.  I spent a great amount of time when I was at school learning that a rod, a pole or a perch is 5.5 yards and that 4 poles make a chain and 40 chains are a furlong – and I have had to wait some 50 years to be able to use that information and I hope you feel better for it!  Already our children can carry in their pockets an enormous amount of information as digital storage becomes smaller, cheaper and more accessible. Once digital information can be held at the atomic level, then the possibilities for carrying facts and information on very small personal computers are almost endless – every bit of information, every fact, every database and every book ever printed will be carried around by each of us..

If this is the future for our young people, then is not going to be about what they know in terms of facts, but about how they will use and apply the immense knowledge available to them.   The real question is how do we educate young people in a digital age to use all this knowledge in ways which are positive and beneficial.  In a fast changing, information rich and complex world,  children will need to know how to use all this information and bring quality to their decisions and choices. In the end, the quality of decisions is in a spiritual issue,  because it asks us to bring values to bear when making decisions and when exercising our ability to choose.  There is nothing new in this except that the power of information is going to be accessible for everyone.

The problem for the politicians is that you cannot have league tables for spirituality and so it is low on their priorities, the challenge for headteachers is that unless we concentrate on the spirituality of young people and the quality of the choices they make and the values which they take into their future – then young people are going to be custodians of knowledge without the wisdom and they need to use that knowledge in ways which will help them to flourish in the future which lies before them.

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