Caring for our Church schools

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AS she enjoys her last few months as Diocesan Director of Education, Fiona Craig tells Jo Duckles about the exciting challenges and opportunities that will face her successor.

“The role of the DDE is primarily one of care, support and challenge on behalf of the Church for not just many church schools, but increasingly in our academy landscape, community schools too,” says Fiona. “The DDE is in a privileged position to influence national Government and the national Church on education issues.”

Fiona Craig at her desk at Church House Oxford.

The job advertisement for the role of DDE is available here. 

Fiona says many of the Diocese of Oxford’s Church schools are places of excellent education, with more than 90 per cent now classes as good or outstanding by OFSTED. In 2012 that figure was 75 per cent.

“I truly believe we can’t tell children God loves them and cares for them and let them have a sub-standard experience in a Church school. That’s why our schools need to be the best they can possibly be. The education needs to be excellent, but our schools also need to be places where children are in an atmosphere where the presence of God is celebrated.”

Fiona links Christian values with British values. The British values are democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs. In Galatians 5, Paul describes the fruits of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

“If you can instil those values they will help you do a brilliant job as a Church school, which means you will do a brilliant job as a school,” she says.

One of the challenges Fiona says she has faced has been reconnecting churches with our schools.
“Since the time when Church schools became publicly funded, I think there has been a sense of churches perhaps letting Local Authorities (and now Multi Academy Trusts) just get on with it and I see a huge opportunity in re-invigorating the church/school relationship.

“Many of our pupils and their families may not be churchgoers but they are still looking for the answers to the big questions of life and death.

“It’s been a huge challenge but a huge opportunity. It has taken me out to work with churches, deanery synods and local community gatherings. Everywhere I have gone I have met people who can see a great missional opportunity of serving schools as an expression of God’s love for all”

To support this work, Charlie Kerr has just been appointed as a chaplaincy advisor for the team. He is the latest addition to a team of experts who work for the Oxford Diocesan Board of Education. However, another challenge in meeting the needs of more than 280 schools is maintaining a great staff team.

“We have grown our team in recent years and we have some really skilled educationalists. They are committed Christians and they are the kind of people who have real credibility educationally, and share a passion for serving schools but they are not easy to find. I’m leaving a truly excellent team of people who will continue that work with someone new.”

Fiona’s top tips for the new DDE:

1. Make time for contemplation – it’s a hugely busy role. It’s important to carve out time to step outside the box and spend time thinking and praying, not just reacting.
2. Be really organised – organising your time and choosing who you spend your time with is important as that will influence your decisions. Keep schools at the heart of it all.
3. Keep the Heid ! (A Scottish saying meaning ‘just stay calm’!)