As part of my role as National Education Lead for Racial Justice for the Church of England, I have the privilege of visiting many schools across the nation. These visits grow my understanding of the beauty of God’s creation within and beyond our schools.
Creation, whether divine or human, requires energy and imagination. It assumes an understanding that things do not always have to be as they are and a will to build on what already exists to make things anew. This transformative process necessitates both humility and power: a humble recognition that our own way of being in the world is not the only way, and an empowered understanding that all our voices matter in the act of making something new or restoring what was lost. This posture is beautifully depicted by St Matthew’s Church of England Primary School, Birmingham, UK.
During the Summer Term (2023), I was fortunate to visit St. Matthew’s, a Church of England School that has close links with the Diocese of Birmingham and St. Matthew’s Church. Although a Church of England school, they acknowledge and consider other faiths and feel that it is only through knowledge and understanding of different faiths and cultures that they can afford pupils a full place in society where differences are valued and equality is assured.
My visit to St. Matthew’s left a profound impact on me. The school’s mission and values center on the flourishing of all children and staff. All are valued for their individuality and heritage and are supported to fulfill their potential and meet the challenges of a changing society. I was deeply moved by the school’s commitment to creating an inclusive environment where children and teachers from diverse faiths and ethnic backgrounds are not only included but genuinely treasured.
My visit to St. Matthew’s reminded me of the Zulu word ubuntu. It can be translated as “I am, because you are.” In other words, we are a people together. The school’s dedication to fostering a sense of community and harmonious living was evident in every interaction and activity, creating an atmosphere that encourages each child to thrive and develop. In essence, St. Matthew’s serves as an outstanding illustration of how educational institutions, driven by a mission like theirs, can play a pivotal role in nurturing a sense of belonging and unity among young learners.
Within the vibrant realm of education at St. Matthew’s, Headteacher Sonia Thompson embraces the significant opportunity to instill in young hearts an understanding and embrace of diverse worldviews, a goal entirely aligned with the school’s values. The school serves as a dynamic microcosm of society, where the rich tapestry of beliefs can be thoughtfully woven into a masterpiece of unity and respect, echoing their commitment to the holistic development of each child.
Christianity, with its spectrum of interpretations, traditions, and cultural nuances, is akin to a magnificent mosaic, and educators at St. Matthew’s cultivate an environment that not only embraces but also celebrates these unique perspectives. In doing so, they sow the seeds of inclusivity, nurturing an ethos that honours the inherent worth of every pupil’s beliefs and fosters a bond that transcends the classroom.
“Christianity, with its spectrum of interpretations, traditions, and cultural nuances, is akin to a magnificent mosaic.”
This educational journey extends beyond mere acceptance; it’s a journey of transformation through the curriculum, aligning it with the school’s mission to enable each child to reach their full potential. (See Thompson and St. Matthew’s referenced in this Guardian article on how schools can improve race relations through practices such as diversifying the curriculum.)
By engaging with a range of worldviews, St. Matthew’s offers pupils a transformative gift—the gift of perspective. As they navigate through the kaleidoscope of beliefs, they learn the art of critical thinking and empathy, skills that enable them to grasp the threads that connect us all as human beings. This noble endeavor extends beyond the classroom walls. It feeds through school policies and systems and includes all stakeholders in the school community, preparing pupils to stride confidently into a world where differences are the threads that weave our global tapestry. By empowering pupils to understand, appreciate, and embrace diversity, St. Matthew’s illuminates a path towards mutual understanding, respect, and harmony, staying true to their mission and values. In doing so, they equip their pupils to become the architects of a brighter, more interconnected future, a testament to the school’s dedication to the flourishing of all.