Letter from the Vicar (November 2007)
Many of our children (and many of us adults too) read the Harry Pottter books. One of the most interesting elements within them is life at Hogwarts School. It’s the mystery, magic and romance of the place which is appealing.
Secret passages, moving staircases, rooms which disappear and then appear again, its all very exciting. But exciting as Hogwarts is, please give me the new Holy Trinity Primary School any day! Even so I think there is an important lesson we can learn from Hogwarts and which can be applied in this school and any school. I’m not suggesting we need a defence against the dark arts teacher or lessons in transfiguration! It is rather the character of that magical school that repays our consideration.
Hogwarts’ equivalent to our Mr Cheesley, Albus Dumbledore runs a school that is directed at the education, the formation of all his young cares in their totality. It is a school which aims at the whole person. This is clearly drawn out in the novel Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. You may remember that in that novel Inspector Umbridge is sent into Hogwarts to determine which staff are fulfilling their utility value and which can be dispensed with. She immediately gets her teeth into Hagrid who in terms of measurable utility value is failing to make the grade. So many young people I have talked to who have read the book, have told me how upset they were in reading of her attempts to dismiss Hagrid. They felt that what Hagrid offers to Hogwarts in terms of moral guidance, love, friendship, loyalty were worth keeping. They warmed to Hagrid, they would want a Hagrid in their school. Who is the Hagrid in our school?
Schools are not just about utility value, measurable targets and so forth. Important though these may be they are second, a long way second in my view, to things which cannot be measured, things which cannot be given a utility value or for which targets set.
Some schools these days are called beacon schools. I want all schools to be beacon schools, but not based purely on their academic or indeed financial success. Education should be about enabling our young people to reach their full potential, to help them discover what in life will make them, to quote Aristotle, ‘more fully human’. This is not restricted to measurable results. Becoming more fully human includes understanding the way in which we relate to each other and to our world. It involves us learning to discern between truth and falsehood, it encourages us to challenge the young by enabling them to have the tools by which they can look critically at their society, at the values and beliefs that are being offered to them.
We now have a wonderful new school, a school that has come into being as a result of the vision and hard work of a number of people. We have a fantastic building, one which the whole community and particularly the Church after which it is named can be truly proud of. But it is the opportunities for a rounded and a visionary education for our children that this school can deliver that is the most important thing. We can have all the equipment in the world, all the best facilities, all the wonderful space, but unless this is taken advantage of, we might as well pack up and go home. But I am confident, because I know our school, its teachers, its staff, its parents and its pupils that, whether it is called so or not, this school is and will be a beacon of true learning in this community.
There are many debates as to what being a ‘Church school’ is all about. I myself take a very broad view of what this means. I am anxious about the increasing tendency to equate Church school and faith school. I want people of many faiths and none at Holy Trinity Primary School and I don’t think the job of the school is to indoctrinate children. Rather I feel that a Church of England school, or at least this Church of England school, should embody in a whole variety of different ways that great tradition of civilised culture which the Anglican Church at its best still represents. The Church I believe in is a broad, inclusive Church which welcomes people of many types and kinds and offers them the richness of the Christian culture which is our inheritance in this country. It does so while acknowledging the contribution of other religions and philosophies and says that they all should have a place. If this is the kind of Church I believe in, you can imagine the kind of school ours should be.
I once described the redoubtable John Butterworth, the Headteacher of the Junior School before Mark Cheesley, as a Christian humanist. And that, I believe, sums up the kind of school Holy Trinity is and should be. Christian in its roots, but open to all that is good in humanity. So as we thank God for the wonderful new building, let us also ask Him to make this Church school a shining beacon of education now and in the years to come.