Being back together has impressed on us the value of our children being both responsible members of God’s world and advocates for good. Head of School Simon Ball talks us through some of the ways in which Didsbury CE children are making a difference.
Every school in the St James & Emmanuel Academy Trust will tell you that one of the great joys of this academic year has been the return to collective worship. That very first time the children could be as one again as a school community was so momentous, so emotional, we filmed it! What we gained wasn’t just a one-off sense of occasion and togetherness, though. It’s what we’ve been doing in collective worship every week since which gives me great hope that at Didsbury CE we are encouraging our children to be responsible members of God’s world.
During our time together, we’ve begun to use a scheme called Picture News, where we look at some contemporary issues relevant to the children. Picture News actually came about after feedback from the children themselves – they were keen to explore and discuss what is going on in the world around them. We feel it’s really important to give them responsibility in their thinking and learning.
Some of the images from Picture News have been incredibly powerful. Earlier this term, we looked at a queue of people waiting to get on a cargo plane, and talked through what they might feel about having to leave their home. The response was tremendously affecting, and gave me that hope for the future. The children immediately asked, “what can we do?” and decided that the Harvest Appeal fundraising monies should go to support Afghan refugees who have since arrived in Manchester.
The older children didn’t stop there. They set up a cake sale to raise further money, with a marketing team to organise and design posters and tell the rest of the school, a sales team to ensure the cakes got into the hands of hungry children and adults, and a finance team to pull all the proceeds together. It was a classic example of our Belonging, Believing, Becoming ethos lived in our curriculum and the real world. A girl in Year 6 felt that she wanted to make a further difference and raised an extra £190 when she organised her own cake sale in her street during the half term holidays!
What we’re finding is that throughout the school there is a renewed social advocacy – perhaps the pandemic has underlined the sense that we have a responsibility to each other and our community. We know Picture News cuts through to children because we hear parents talk about the issues their children are discussing – and that’s great. We really want our children to stand up for the things they believe in, for people or places or animals that don’t have a voice.
From these discussions, we’ve also encouraged children to write or draw their own reflections, to act on what they’ve talked about. To that end, a letter one of our Year 6 pupils wrote to the Minister for Rough Sleeping & Housing, Eddie Hughes MP, ended up with Bethany and Miss Lomas having a Zoom call with the Minister about homelessness. She asked him some tough questions!
Not every child will want to discuss homelessness with an MP, of course, but the opportunity that Bethany had to do so allowed us to emphasise that young people can make a difference. It won’t surprise you that Greta Thunberg often comes up when we discuss climate change in collective worship. Whatever you think about her methods, we always tell the children that she was only a few years older than them when she decided to make her simple act of protest. In fact, anyone who has made a difference at some point has been in a primary school classroom, just like them.
You just never know where one simple act will take you, and watching their behaviour and thought processes, I have no doubt many of the children at Didsbury CE Primary School will go on to be great leaders; what we do here is start to shape that belief in them. At the leavers’ service the children have a chance to say what they might like to do when they’re older. Some, tongue in cheek, talk about owning a Ferrari. But the overwhelming majority talk about what they can do to make a difference, rather than what they can have.
We frequently talk about this idea of growing up being about who you are, rather than just what you know. What’s so good is that the children do appreciate that loving their neighbour isn’t a literal commandment confined to their street, it’s a global imperative. So, given that Didsbury CE Primary School is truly international these days, we are among children from all over the world with a big vision – at quite a young age. It’s a pleasure to watch them grow.Visit Didsbury CE website