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Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership Conference

Saturday 4th February 2017

Keynote Address by Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York


The Archbishop of York introduces the launch conference of the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership on 4th February 2017.

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I.      Christian Motivation

I’m delighted to join you all this morning on this important and unique day for the Church of England. Education has long been at the centre of God’s mission to children and young people through the ministry of the Church. Today, through our network of schools over one million students each year are nurtured in wisdom, truth, knowledge, virtue, skills, and most importantly, in the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ. This is fantastic – it is amazing – and it is an awesome responsibility.

We learn in Holy Scripture that education has always been on God’s heart. The Psalmist writes:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you (Psalm 32:8).

From our faith in Jesus we are given the most inspirational model for education; this is ‘that they might have life, and have it more abundantly’ (John 10:10). In Jesus’ living and proclaiming of the Kingdom of God, he ushered in a movement of transformation; wellbeing and wholeness for every human person. It is this ‘Deeply Christian’ movement of the life of God that I believe must be central to our schools as we consider the responsibility we all have together to make Jesus Christ visible. He longs to give abundant life to all our young people today.

Whilst the model of Christ and evidence in scripture is the key motivator for the Church’s involvement in education, there are also other vital signs and changes in our society, at both a national and global level, that compel us to build upon and freely release our distinctive model for education; and this event today is a part of that.

II      The Impact of ‘Deeply Christian’

During my pilgrimage across the Diocese of York in 2016, I visited 148 Primary and Secondary schools and was greatly encouraged by the teaching and learning I saw taking place. However, I did also hear a message from teachers, and students alike, that they were desperate for a new kind of education: one that values them for who they are, and draws out their creative energies; one that helps them to ‘bear good fruit’ in every part of their lives: continually learning, being renewed, serving others and living life to the full.

As Grace Lee Boggs writes in the Handbook of Social Justice in Education;

“At a time when we desperately need to heal the earth and build durable economics and healthy communities, our schools and universities are stuck in the processes and practices used to industrialise the earth in the 19th and 20th centuries…An educational system which sorts, tracks, tests, and rejects or certifies them like products in a factory…to become cogs in the decaying economic system”.

What is essential, therefore, is that we find the balance between academic rigour and the education of children’s hearts, minds and souls.

This balance can be found in the etymology of the word Education. There are two Latin roots for the word: educare meaning to ‘bring up, train, and to mould’, and educere, meaning ‘to lead and draw out that which lies within’. The African proverb which says that ‘it takes the whole village to raise the child’ fits with educare. Meanwhile Educere is well illustrated by Michelangelo’s famous saying about sculpture: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

In each human person there is a treasure, a deep beauty within, waiting to be revealed. Together both meanings help me understand how both learning and character are shaped through education. Our Church schools have an exciting opportunity to provide this rounded and grounded approach which holds in creative tension the importance of heart, soul and mind.

As I read through the Church of England’s new vision for education, I’m encouraged by this ‘Deeply Christian’ model that is inspired by the example of Jesus Christ; focusing on educating for Wisdom, Hope, Community and Dignity. As such, this vision sets us apart. It includes but goes beyond the quest for academic rigour and character education and it blazes a trail for others to follow. We know that God calls us not only to ‘abundant life’ as individuals made in his image and likeness, but also to serve one another in community – living and flourishing together. As William Temple wrote;

‘Maximum output is not a true end of human enterprise; the end is fullness of personality in community…’

And it is possible for the education of our children and young people to have an impact on community and even upon the nation’s soul and character. Whilst this is unpacked more in the vision document and will be explored in more detail in the workshops this afternoon, one highly effective and practical approach that I would like to share with you is that of my Youth Trust’s Young Leaders Award. Launched in 2011 and available for Key stages 2, 3, 4 and post 16, this programme has so far helped to educate the hearts, souls and minds of over 48,000 young people in over 430 schools across the north of England. The Award embodies the principles of ‘educare’ and ‘educere’, and provides genuine opportunities for young people to grow in faith, leadership, character and service. Within each Award every young person takes part in a social action project for the benefit of the others, empowered to become active citizens in their communities.

III      Case Study

One Headteacher of a community school located in a deprived area in Yorkshire told me this story. The school enrolled onto the KS2 Award and planned to run it with 60 Year 5 students. In one of the classes was a boy who had not met any of his early learning goal. He was disruptive in class, and was clearly struggling with challenging circumstances at home. Teachers were finding it difficult to engage him in learning, despite many interventions, and the boy was often found in the Headteacher’s office for all the wrong reasons.

Half way through the KS2 Award the children are given the opportunity to research a national UK charity and deliver a presentation on their work. To everyone’s surprise this boy asked to deliver a presentation. He proceeded to give an impassioned talk about Dementia UK since his grandfather, to whom he was very close, had just moved into a home and was suffering with dementia. Teachers and students alike were stunned by his presentation, many were in tears, especially since this child had never spoken like this in class before. The class voted unanimously that they wanted to raise awareness and funds in support of Dementia UK as their community action project, and this became the most empowering experience for the boy. He rushed home and baked around 90 cakes with his Mum for a bake sale he wanted to put on, co-ordinated a community tea afternoon with his class to fundraise for Dementia UK and started making regular appointments to see the Headteacher and ask what else the school could do to serve and make a difference in the community!

The Headteacher described this moment in the Award as a turning point for this boy with an immediate impact on his learning. He became engaged in class and quickly started to progress. The result was that in his SATS he was only two marks away from being a high achiever and performed above all expectations! Something about this educational experience touched this boy’s heart and soul, it then engaged and empowered his mind and the result was transformational. As the strapline of the Trust says, “Be the change you want to see”.

Over this past year, the University of Gloucestershire have been conducting an independent evaluation of the Young Leaders Award, assessing the impact on levels of educational engagement and achievement, moral and social development of participants, as well as educational attainment, social interaction and community engagement within the lives of the young people concerned.

Their interim report has already revealed evidence of the Young Leaders Award; 

  • aiding cohesion both in the school and in the community;
  • providing numerous personal and social benefits amongst participants such as: increased confidence, learning new skills, communication skills, and consideration for others;
  • increasing emotional intelligence amongst participants and;
  • helping to develop (and placing emphasis on) the ‘whole person’.

For my part, I continue to be amazed by the things I see and hear when young people are empowered to love, care and serve their communities with passion and dedication. Their stories are amazing!

IV     Moving forward

In a time of significant change and with a shortage of leaders in our educational system, I’m delighted that this new vision not only re-affirms our commitment to the ‘whole child’ but also reaches out to the wider education community through establishing the Foundation of Educational Leadership as a beacon of support for all school leaders. With the sector facing a recruitment crisis, especially in the pipeline for headteachers, with all the funding cuts piling on pressure to reduce the education budget to the bare bones, and with the isolation and fear of closure felt in many rural schools, now is the time for the Church of England to step up and lead the way through a servant-hearted approach to leadership.

I’m pleased to say that the Foundation is already offering a Church of England Professional Qualification for Headship, a MAT CEO programme, Diocesan leadership programmes, alongside online resource sharing platforms and peer support networks. As modelled in Christ, this offer is for all leaders in education and not just those involved in church schools. It is my prayer that this launch will help to create an even stronger sense of movement across those involved in education through the church and help school leaders to continue to model excellence in education; an excellence that focusses on educating the ‘whole child’. As Lord Andrew Adonis puts it in my book On Rock or Sand:

“Getting our educational system right is crucial to our future economic and social wellbeing. Schools, colleges, and universities are critical in fostering social cohesion and sound common values and in providing individuals and also communities with the means to flourish.”

I believe today is a unique moment for the Church of England and its involvement in education. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson,

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”.

This is what the Church is doing today. With a new vision for education, a new foundation of support, research and best practice, and a model centred on Christ’s example of bringing abundant life – ‘life in all its fullness’, I believe we can touch for good the very heart of this generation and help each new generation to learn afresh that, as GK Chesterton put it, ‘Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another’.

Let us all be the change we want to see.


This Keynote Address was given at the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership Conference at Church House Westminster on Saturday 4 February 2017. 

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