Children’s & youth work links

Links from the world of children’s and youth ministry:

CrossTeach banned from Church primary school for being ‘extremist’

A primary school in Kent has cuts its ties with a Christian group after parents complained of religious extremism and claimed children had been distressed by comments about gay marriage and a demonstration of “God’s power” in assemblies.

Dan Turvey, the headteacher of St John’s Church of England primary school in Tunbridge Wells, told parents in a letter that he was ending invitations to the charity CrossTeach to lead school assemblies and take lessons, after what he called a campaign by parents.

One parent said children were being told ‘they would not go to a good place when they died’ if they did not believe in God, according to the Telegraph, and another said her son had been told ‘men can’t marry men’, according to the Guardian.

The parents group said in a statement:

‘We recognise and respect the school’s Christian values but think there is a brand of Christianity that is abusing that respect. The basis of [our] complaint relates purely to concerns over the welfare and safeguarding of children who we believe are being exposed to potentially damaging ideology.’

In a letter to parents on Monday Turvey said he was ‘deeply saddened’ to be severing ties but acknowledged children had been ‘upset and disturbed emotionally’.  He wrote:

‘After careful consideration I have decided that we will end our regular commitment to CrossTeach and that they will no longer lead assemblies or take lessons.’

But he added: I do not believe CrossTeach has done anything wrong.’

He said the group would continue to run a voluntary after school club. ‘They do not deserve the tarnishing of their good name and allegations of extremism that have taken place over the last few months,’ he told parents.

One parent who asked not to be named said:

‘I didn’t pull my mine out because overall I think it would do more harm than good to segregate them.

‘But I do know some of the children have been upset by what they have heard. No one minds Nativity plays and Bible stories but considering most of the parents at the school aren’t practising Christians I think the feeling is that it’s all too much.

‘In Tunbridge Wells the vast majority of primary schools are affiliated with the church so it’s not like you have a choice whether you expose your children to this.

‘Personally I want my children to learn about all religions. If you want them to be raised as Christians there are plenty of Sunday schools.’

But Turvey hit back at the parents’ complaints and said: ‘It is my view that the use of social media can be destructive and counterproductive. In this case I believe that the damage caused by the use of this media will take a very long time to repair.’

He added ‘relationships have been soured and trust eroded’, telling parents ‘the past few months have been stressful, tiring and a distraction from our focus’.

Wayne Harris, the national director at CrossTeach, said the group was a charity and worked with schools under constant supervision, observing school policies and national guidleines, where applicable. He added:

“Whilst we note the strong comments made by Mr Daniel Turvey, Headteacher, in support of our workers and activities, Crossteach is very disappointed that, after 16 years of supporting the school, our work will no longer be available to young people at St Johns CE Primary School, Tunbridge Wells.

“Wherever possible we work in partnership with local churches and we reflect their teaching, always aiming to be sensitive to the local context, and recognising that churches vary. We teach mainstream Christianity.

“In 16 years of Christian schools work no teacher has ever raised a concern that something has been said that could be interpreted as in any way ‘hateful’ or ‘extremist’.”

Children’s & youth work links

Links from the world of children’s and youth ministry:

How do we help young people to pray?: Joel Goodlet has written a great blog on the need to stop sending out the invitation to ‘try prayer’ and find a way instead to encourage our young people to devote themselves to prayer.

Hugh Hefner Wrecked My Life. . . Sort Of. . .: Walt Mueller blogs on the cultural impact that Hugh Hefner had.

If you have not read the Nashville Statement, please don’t: Steve Holmes nails it, on how the Nashville Statement is framed to try to make us take sides, and the loudest responses have been similarly framed.

The Annual Bullying Survey 2017: the fifth and largest edition of our yearly benchmark of bullying in the United Kingdom. Ditch the Label, the anti-bullying charity, surveyed over 10,000 young people aged 12-20 in partnership with schools and colleges from across the country.

Regular Energy Drink Use by Young Adults May Hike Risk of Substance Abuse: A new study by University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers suggests young adults who regularly consume highly caffeinated energy drinks may be at risk for future substance use.

Every school should have a therapist

Lord Layard also wants government to assess how much value schools add to pupils’ happiness.
Every school should have an on-site therapist, according to one of the country’s leading economists and wellbeing experts.
Lord Layard, director of the wellbeing programme at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance, has also called for all schools to employ a senior teacher in charge of mental health.

He wants child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) to provide therapeutic services in schools. “Extra money for child mental health should be devoted to building a school-based wing of Camhs,” he said.

Lord Layard said this should include trained therapists in schools. “I would use the word ‘therapist’, rather than ‘counsellor’,” he said.

He suggested that the government should assess how much value schools add to pupils’ happiness. “If the only thing measured is exams, we will never get anything else given equal importance to that,” he told a conference on wellbeing and mental health in education, organised by the International Positive Education Network.

“Happiness and wellbeing should be something that the school uses, to see how well it’s doing. How well does a school do in changing the happiness of its children?

“Eventually…every school will have a senior teacher in charge of mental health.”

Speaking at the same conference on Friday, Mario Piacentini, of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), spoke about the organisation’s new ranking of developed countries by pupils’ levels of happiness.

“The number-one driver of dissatisfaction is anxiety,” Dr Piacentini said. “More than one in two students in the OECD worries excessively about the difficulty of exams. They get very tense, even if they perceive they’re well-prepared for the exam.”

But, he added, teachers are able to allay this anxiety to some degree.

“Whenever students feel support from their teachers – if the teacher adapts the lesson for the class’s skills and knowledge – there is a reduction in anxiety.

“But, if there are problems of communication with teachers, the level of anxiety jumps up.”

Young Carer’s Day: the stress of juggling multiple responsibilities

A group of young carers have made a hard-hitting film showing how stressful it can be juggling responsibilities both at home and in school.

The film, which was made by Fixers, the charity which gives young people a voice, is being launched today on Young Carer’s Day.

You can watch it here:

Jade Dyer, 17, has been the primary carer for her mum for the past four years and takes the lead role in the film.  It shows her being reprimanded by a teacher for failing to get an essay in on time as she struggles to look after her mum who has Grave’s disease – an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the body.

Jade, from Bourne End, Bucks, says:

‘Her illness means her moods can be very up and down – when she’s down I need to be there to console her and give her support.  She might not be able to get out of bed if she’s feeling like that, so I’ll need to do household tasks like cooking dinner.  If she doesn’t take her medication or is particularly unwell she becomes quite immobile, so if she collapses I need to be there to help her up.’

There were times when the teenager struggled to cope with school.  She says:

‘My secondary school attendance was very low, and the teachers didn’t realise what I was going through so there was a huge lack of understanding.  My grades were affected and teachers could be quite harsh about it.’

Jade, who is now studying for her A-levels at Henley College, plans to show the film at teacher training events.  She says:

‘We hope the film will show teachers just how much we have to do – we have a lot more on our plates than the average student and getting some leniency when it comes to things like essay deadlines could really help us.

‘Anyone can be in a caring role and it’s important that teachers are patient and understanding so they can help them. There are a lot of intelligent people who could miss out otherwise.  Focus on what that child’s needs are and help them in any way you can.’

 

Study finds Sex & Relationships Education doesn’t reduce STIs and teen pregnancy

Young Couple Relaxing Near River Enjoying Sunny Day

The following is excerpted from an online article posted on LifeSiteNews:

A new peer-reviewed study of multiple “sexual and reproductive health” educational programs in several countries finds no evidence of improved health outcomes in any program studied.

According to the authors of the study, “School-based interventions for preventing HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy in adolescents,” published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, “There is little evidence that educational curriculum-based programs alone are effective in improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes for adolescents.”

The study’s authors reviewed eight studies that examined sex-education programs in schools in Africa, Latin America and Europe with a total of 55,157 participants, and performed randomized controlled trials on their data. They found the programs had no measurable impact on the rate of sexually-transmitted diseases among participants or rates of pregnancy.

“In these trials, the educational programs evaluated had no demonstrable effect on the prevalence of HIV or other STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections),” the authors write, noting that in addition to HIV infection they also looked at results regarding herpes and syphilis. “There was also no apparent effect on the number of young women who were pregnant at the end of the trial,” they add.

The authors note that many studies of adolescent sex-education programs measure the programs’ effectiveness by examining their “effects on knowledge or self-reported behavior” rather than “biological outcomes” such as the rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among program participants. In examining biological outcomes, the authors could find no benefit from such programs.

The findings of the study are consonant with other studies of “comprehensive” sex-education programs that show them to be ineffective or even counterproductive, particularly in comparison with abstinence-only programs.

Children’s and Young People writing

Key findings about children and young people writing in 2015 from the Literacy Trust, based on a survey of 32,569 children and young people aged 8 to 18, include:

  • Fewer children and young people enjoyed writing in 2015 compared with the previous year, with enjoyment levels dropping from 49.3% in 2014 to 44.8% in 2015.
  • Fewer children and young people wrote something daily outside class in 2015 than in 2014, with daily writing levels decreasing from 27.2% in 2014 to 20.7% in 2015. Daily writing levels also continue to be in stark contrast to daily reading levels, which have increased dramatically over the past couple of years.
  • When asked whether they ever write something that they don’t share with anyone else, nearly half (46.8%) of children and young people said they did.
  • Technology-based formats, such as text messages (68.6%), messages on social networking sites (44.3%) and instant messages (46.2%) continue to dominate the writing that children and young people engaged in outside class in 2015. Notes (3%), letters (25.8%) and lyrics (24.6%) are the most frequently written non-technology formats. With the exception of poems, most formats of writing have again decreased in 2015.
  • Attitudes towards writing have remained unchanged in 2015.

Read the full findings here.

It leaves me reflecting on how we encourage journaling with teenagers in the church.

It’s encouraging to see that 46.8% of children and young people write things that they don’t share with anyone else, but with daily writing outside the classroom dropping substantially from 27.2% in 2014 to 20.7% in 2015 I think we need to look at how we recommend technology-based formats of journaling.

Christmas video 19: Jesus: Truth or Fairytale

“Jesus: Truth or Fairytale?” a Christmas video resource aimed at 16-19 year olds. For many young people Christmas is a fairytale, a nice story we repeat each year. This video asks the question, what if God really came to town?

The video features Meg Cannon reciting a spoken word piece that brings back the grit, humanity and truth into the nativity story, and then questions what that might change. If Jesus’ birth was a real event, what does that mean for me and what does that mean for you?

 

Tens of thousands of UK teenagers neglected at home, report says

Survey of year 10 pupils suggests one in seven experience some form of neglect, risking their physical and emotional health.

teenage-boys

A survey commissioned by the Children’s Society found that one in seven 14- and 15-year-olds had experienced at least one form of neglectful parenting, the equivalent of three to four students in every year 10 classroom.

Emotional and supervisory neglect were the joint most common forms reported by year 10 pupils and the former was associated with teenagers being more likely to engage in risky behaviour.

Those who said they had experienced emotional neglect were more than twice as likely than their peers to have got drunk recently, nearly three times as likely to have smoked and more than twice as likely to have skipped lessons.

Neglected teenagers were also significantly more likely to be dissatisfied with their lives, pessimistic about their futures and lacking confidence in their abilities. Children who reported frequent support from parents were more likely to have higher levels of wellbeing. Young people who were materially deprived were more likely to be neglected than their peers.

The Children’s Society said that the problems stem partly from an incorrect perception that teenagers needed less care and support than younger children. It wanted to see better support and advice for parents bringing up adolescents.

The Children’s Society chief executive, Matthew Reed, said:

“No child should be left feeling that no one cares about them. Teenagers are often seen as more resilient than younger children. But of course they still need care from their parents to meet their needs, support their education and keep them safe.

“Our research makes clear the central role of parental care and emotional support to the wellbeing of young people. With little dedicated advice readily available for parents of teenagers, we need to provide more support to parents bringing up teenagers, not to blame them. The government has a massive role to play in making sure the needs of teenagers, and their parents, are never forgotten. Society must not give up on teens.”

Recommendations in the report, published on Tuesday, include parenting classes for families with adolescent children, training on understanding adolescent neglect for frontline education, health and youth justice workers and more work to enable young people to recognise neglectful situations and know what help is available.

The University of York polled a representative sample of about 2,000 young people aged 12 to 15 in 72 schools for the report, asking them about their experiences of being cared for by their parents.

Singapore government say education is not about the grade, it’s about learning

Exams

Singapore’s education system has long been criticised for the emphasis on grades over the learning process. But it looks like the Ministry of Education wants to make a bold statement to counter that.

It just launched a touching commercial based on a true story of a student and her teacher Madam Phua:

The video shows how Phua guided Shirley through a failing grade with Geography lessons. Both student and teacher continue to keep in touch today, according to the ad.

Assembly: Ambition

This morning I led an assembly on the theme of Ambition for one of our local junior schools:

Preparation and materials

None required.

Assembly

I have a question for all of you sat here before me: what do you want to be when you grow up? Wait for responses or have a few members of the school primed to answer.

 

The question is one that you will all have been asked at some point by grandparents, aunts and uncles and probably your mum and dad. You may have even thought about the question yourself.

 

There may be many and various answers to the question and the answer may not remain the same throughout your life. For example, I wanted to be a farmer, then a lawyer, and next a teacher (insert your own here if you like). I have ended up as a youth worker, something I considered, but did not really pay that much attention to. And yet, here I am, in a job that I think suits me and one that I enjoy.

 

It might be that you want to be a footballer for a particular team (Southampton/Manchester United/local team), a pop star, a neuro-surgeon, astronaut, actor, lawyer, weather forecaster. Or maybe you want to do a seemingly unexciting but essential job like postal delivery, or train to be a nurse, or dare I say it, even a teacher. You may find that your thoughts and ideas change with age, with experience and when you have a clearer understanding of what your strengths and weaknesses are.

 

‘Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.’

 

This was written by Paul nearly 2,000 years ago, but I believe that it really does have something to say to us today. Let’s break it down shall we and look at how we can apply this teaching to life in the twenty-first century and see if we can find something to use in our lives today.

 

Let’s think about the phrase ‘selfish ambition’ in the quote from Paul. This is in no way saying that ambition is wrong – it is right to be ambitious, to have goals, aims and dreams that you want to achieve. If those ambitions come out of having been selfish, however – that is, you have put yourself before everyone else, you have trodden on others to get what you want – then that’s not right. Let’s say, for example, that you really want the main part in the school play and you know your friend wants to go for it, too. You have a sneaking suspicion that she might be better than you, so you tell her the wrong dates for the audition. She misses out and you get the part.

 

Paul also talks about conceit. This is an interesting point because I am not entirely sure we use this word very much nowadays, at least I don’t hear it. We do often hear its synonyms, though: egotistical, self-centred, self-serving. In the play scenario, this might mean that you try out before your friend because you believe that you may be better than her.

 

Next, Paul says ‘in humility regard others as better than yourselves’. This is not saying that you should always put others first; it’s saying that if you have your own skills and talents, but you know that someone is better at something than you are, then you should take a back seat and allow that person to shine. So, returning to the school play, you should be truthful about the audition dates and let the best person get the part. It is about humility; about being humble and accepting that others have talents that we may not and our time to shine will come, just not necessarily at that particular moment.

 

By seeing the brilliance of others, we serve their interests, setting aside our selfishness. It is a matter of seeing that ‘what I want’ might not necessarily be what’s best for the greater good, for other people or in the long term.

 

What can you do in four minutes?  You can hard-boil an egg.  You can listen to a song.  You can queue at a till in the supermarket.  You can take a shower.  You can answer a question that you’ve been set for your maths homework.
Four minutes isn’t a long period of time, but it also isn’t a particularly short period of time either. It can seem too long if you’re doing something that takes a lot of effort. It can seem too short if you need to complete a certain task within that time. For instance, a distance runner trying to break a record has to keep up his or her speed even when the body wants to give up, knowing that the seconds are relentlessly ticking away. Roger Bannister is an athlete who understood exactly what four minutes felt like.
For male athletes in the middle of the twentieth century, running a mile – four laps of an athletics track – in under four minutes became an obsession.
During the Second World War, two Swedish athletes – Gunder Hägg and Arne Andersson – took advantage of their country’s neutrality to chip away at the world record. They brought it down from 4 minutes 6.4 seconds to 4 minutes 1.4 seconds, but they couldn’t break the magic 4-minute barrier.
For nine years that record remained unbroken. It was as if there was a psychological barrier. Some even believed it wasn’t physically possible. Different athletes attempted to break it. At least one claimed to have done so in a training session, but no one could manage it in a public race until Roger Bannister, with his friends Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher, lined up at the Iffley Road track in Oxford on the windy evening of 6 May 1954.

 

Brasher led for the first two laps, reaching the halfway stage in 1 minute 58 seconds. Chataway then took over, with Bannister on his shoulder until, with half a lap to go, he sprinted into the lead, head rolling and arms waving in his signature running style, pounding down the finishing straight and through the tape before collapsing exhausted into the arms of his supporters.
The winning time was given as 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. The barrier had been broken!

 

For Roger Bannister, the four-minute mile was right for him. He was already the British record holder for both the mile and 1,500 metres. He knew he had the ability, he just needed to step up his training and find the right conditions for his attempt. Crucially, he also needed to put together the right team to help him achieve his ambition. In Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, he had that team. They led him through the early stages of the race, keeping the pace up, protecting him from the gusty wind. So it was that he became a world record breaker.
Personal bests happen when we take the same steps Roger Bannister took. First, we choose what we want to improve. It’s a good idea for it to be something in which we think we have some potential. It’s the right area of your life. It doesn’t have to be a school subject. It can be a relationship, a hobby, your personality, your knowledge, a skill. Next, you need to put some effort into what you want to achieve. That’s the hard part, isn’t it? Yet, any ambition is surely worth it. No pain, no gain, as the saying goes. Finally, it’s often good to involve others, for their support, advice and company. They’ll also be there to congratulate you when you achieve your new personal best!
Sir Roger Bannister was asked if he considered running the four-minute mile to be his proudest achievement. His reply was, ‘No’. He valued his contribution as a neurologist to research on the human nervous system far more. It’s like that with personal bests, too. We achieve one, but there are always others we can aim for. Ambitions never end.

 

Time for Reflection

So, maybe today, try not putting yourself first. This might be as simple as holding the door open for someone else or taking the time to listen to a friend who always listens to you or helping out at home rather than leaving everything for your mum and dad to do.

 

Let’s also think about how we can try to see our place in the grand scheme of things, taking everyone and their talents and needs into account rather than putting ourselves first.