Anglican Schools, Identity and Purpose

This article is an invitation to a conversation. It relates to identity and purpose in Anglican Schools. Please comment, question and discuss or communicate directly with the author. See contact details at the end of this post.

Creative Task:

Write a script welcoming new teachers to an Anglican School within the Southern Queensland family.

300 Words.

Go.

(Challenge accepted.)

Response:

If you are new this year to Anglican Schools, welcome. You are among our staff because you are a committed educator or an expert in your field. You are here because you can contribute to the life, ethos and culture of our school communities, and we will be richer for what you bring and how you work.

It might seem odd to state, but what lies at the heart of Anglican schools is education. To this vocation we bring a vision of humanity that is shaped by the image of God. This image is visible in Jesus and present in every human being.

So no matter what demands are asked, what expectations weigh in or whatever pressure comes, one thing is always at the centre: education, always education, but without ever losing sight of humanity born in the image and likeness of God. We are a network of schools committed to exceptional education, faithfully Christian, for the Common Good.

Whilst it might sound a little technical, the key mark of Anglican Schools is Incarnational. That is, we live essential words, in person; we work to embody wisdom, community, dignity, fairness, compassion, beauty, hope, goodness. We are intentional in making visible what is true. Whilst each school has its own story, character, culture and values, our shared commitment to this identity does not alter.

There are five other marks to our identity and they too are incarnational in kind. We make visible the realities that lie at the heart of intellectual, pastoral, missional, faithful and hospitable responsibilities.

This script is about identity. Schools and Diocesan bodies have been doing a lot of work in recent years on identity. There is no identity without purpose. Or if there is, it would be called nostalgia without reason. The key question here is ‘what are we educating for?’

Is there a framework on ‘purpose’ that could compliment Anglican identity to help form flourishing students for a flourishing world? And if there is such a framework, how can a body outside a school (such as a Diocesan Schools Commission) shape purpose without impinging upon the independence of each school? How can purpose address education and be faithfully Christian, without compromising either? How can this be achieved within plural student populations remarkably similar to the populations they are drawn from?

It is extremely difficult to form values within a student body that are different from the dominant culture[1]. Values and character formation can’t just be tacked onto the curriculum, like an appendage or piece of apparel. It has to be a part of the educational DNA and somehow shape the learning community from within the process of educating itself. This challenge and these questions are what sit behind the Position Paper ‘Educating for’.

The framework proposed in the paper is heavily informed by the developments of the Education Office of the Church of England. The paper takes their four entities and overlays a philosophical scaffold that give the domains an order.

What are we educating for?

Dignity               (ontology: honouring what is precious and true)

Wisdom           (epistemology: the practice of deep knowing)

Hope                (hermeneutics: values tuned to the common good)

Justice             (ethics: character engaging in healthy communities)

These four domains are concrete, measurable, elegant, logical, resonant with Jesus the Logos, philosophically robust and effective pedagogical instruments. They provide a framework for our schools to work with, facilitate the development of learning and teaching cultures while providing tools to record, track and report on progress.

What might this sound like in conversation with new staff? Back to the script:

Our purpose is turned towards something eternal, a just cause that is so big we shall never reach its end.

When Jesus was offered the scroll of the book of the Prophet Isaiah in the synagogue, he took the opportunity to sum up his purpose. He read from chapter 61 which addresses the poor, the captive, the blind and the oppressed with the message of good news, freedom, sight and release. This is what we are educating for, for light and liberation. We work to make visible what is true: Dignity, Wisdom, Hope, Justice.

We are educating students so they can excel and flourish and live into the fullness of themselves as gifted by God, and live for a good that is greater than themselves; that in receiving light and liberation through their experiences in our schools, these same students will go into the world in a way that shares light and brings liberation.

Anglican Schools work is education, faithfully Christian, for light and liberation. This is because of who Jesus is and what Jesus does[2]. Just as Jesus’ presence in the world is purposed for light and liberation, so is ours. As we express our identity and live into our purpose, light and liberation might well be the best way to describe our fruit and test the worth of our work.

Background Papers:

Keynote Address, ASA Conference, 2021: Culture as King

Position Paper, ‘Educating for’

Contact:

Richard Browning: rbrowning@anglicanchurchsq.org.au


[1] Francis and Penny’s research questioned over 8000 students, from a mix of Anglican and non-religious schools, and they came to a bracing conclusion: “the collective world view of students attending Anglican schools generated an ethos consistent with a predominantly secular host culture”. Assessing the Ethos of Anglican Primary Schools in Wales: The Student Voice Project. Leslie J. Francis , David W. Lankshear and Emma L Eccles.

[2] Anglicanism in education asks what does our community need? Not how can our schools form faith or furnish our churches with what we hope for. Anglicanism responds to the needs of the world, just as Jesus did. In this way, church is a consequence of Anglicanism, not a cause. It explains why schools and schooling has a long history within Anglicanism – communities and society at large needs quality education. Anglicanism makes a meaningful contribution to this essential work. See the writing of Martin Percy in ‘The Humble Church’ who in turn is drawing down on the foundational work of Richard Hooker.

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Richard Browning Written by:

Richard is an experienced priest and school chaplain and is the Director of Mission with the Anglican Schools Commission, Southern Queensland.

One Comment

  1. Andrew Mintern
    January 19, 2022
    Reply

    Thanks Richard. A timely read with new staff inductions about to take place. blessings for the new year to you.

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